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Imagination Connoisseur, Remo Ugolini, throws down and lands a punch or two in his own summary review of ROCKY and the fight films that make up Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise.
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I have found Sylvester Stallone’s movies over the years since Rocky to be more miss than hit with films like COBRA (imdb), JUDGE DREDD (imdb), STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT (imdb), OSCAR (imdb), RHINESTONE (imdb) and OVER THE TOP (imdb). Yet the first Rocky has some kind of special movie magic in it that casts a spell on its audience.
I can remember watching for the first time with my dad on television as my father would never go the theatre. In the climatic fight at the end he seemed to forget it was film but began reacting like it was a live boxing match. Shouting at the television telling Rocky to put up his hands to defend himself, trap Creed on the ropes and start throwing more punches as the rounds were running out. It was like my dad had turned into Burgess Meredith exhorting Rocky that you got him just land some more body blows.
I completely understood your statement that Rocky was a feel good film in a time (the 70s) where North America didn’t have much to feel good about. I would add some personal aspects of how Rocky resonated for me. The movie reminded me of the boxing matches between Canadian Heavyweight Champion George Chuvalo (off and on from 1958 to 1978) and Muhammad Ali in 1966 and 1972. In the 1966, 24 year old Ali was at the peak of his boxing skills being quick and strong while Chuvalo with limited physical skills like Rocky Balboa was a straight ahead plodder willing to wade in and take punishment to land thunderous blows on opponents.
Ali with characteristic quickness landed blow after blow which Chuvalo absorbed for 15 rounds but managing to get close to land his own big shots. Chuvalo went the distance slugging toe to toe with one of the greatest fighters of all time and even in the 15th round landed a barrage that wobbled the American but ran out of gas from sheer exhaustion. Sounds very familiar to a certain movie. In the aftermath of the fight Ali was taken to the hospital for the night for observation while Chuvalo went dancing with his wife. Ali would remark that Chuvalo was the toughest guy I have ever fought.
The second thing that resonated is that I finally saw an Italian-American protagonist that wasn’t a savage and murderous gangster like in the Godfather movies, an opera buffa clown or a sleazy smiling lothario. Here was a decent blue collar guy down on his luck who simply wants to be respected by going the distance and not to be seen as a stereotypical loser and coward. What he lacked in natural ability he made up with determination and hard work. Probably that is why my father who immigrated to Canada after World War 2 who found some bias while working at back breaking jobs would shout and yell instructions for Rocky like it was a real match and he had the same stakes of gaining respect like the Balboa.
Though, I would like to make a case for ROCKY IV (imdb) being the best of the sequels as it all the Rocky movies in one film.
It encapsulates everything about the jingoistic Hollywood Cold War moviemaking from the 1980s. You have a great soundtrack and Stallone and Lundgren are both ripped and in peak anabolic form. The movie is about the clash of individuals at a personal level for the death of Creed and at an ideological level of two political cultures.
This film more resembles a Bond movie where Drago is a straight up bad guy and unstoppable cyborg from a foreign organization built with scientific technology that needs to be defeated to protect the Western sports world. I know the thought that the movie is pure hyperbole but I think of the 1972 Summit Series where Team Canada and the Soviet Union played the first hockey series between the two countries with their all star players.
The high flying Russian players with their precise passing caught the hard checking and slower Canadians by surprise taking a lead in the series. I can remember Canadian captain Phil Esposito shouting at a reporter that he would die before he would let those communists beat him at Canada’s national game.
They say it is only a game but sometimes there is a lot more at stake that just the score.