SnapDragon dishes on her favorite film series.
Desert Island Pick #1.
Have I ever told you that I’m a huge Rocky fan?
Well I bloody-well am.
Yep. I’ve never hit a punching bag in my life, but this series called out to me from the first time I saw it on my parents’ wooden-framed television set.
While people love to make fun of it, the story of Rocky Balboa will always be a part of me. It’s about heart, yo.
And during these crazy times of being stuck in the house, I decided a helping of my favorite Italian Stallion might be just what the doctor ordered.
. . .
A few months ago, I re-watched all six films. (Please note I do not consider the Creed movies to be part of the series. You’re welcome to debate me on this. It’s a spin-off, friends. But that’s a topic for another day.)
Anyway, from Rocky to Rocky Balboa, I enjoyed my favorite parts all over again, and undoubtedly savored new moments that were somehow forgotten over the years.
And so, here is my (brief?) analysis of the complete story of Rocky. (Again, I realize that Rocky is in the Creed films. But I will always view those as a separate story.)
**Wait, you haven’t seen them? For real? Then stop reading. Now. Come back to this another day, love.**
Okay. Here we go!
. . .
If I had to choose the “best” film overall, it would have to be the original. I love how each character is patiently and thoughtfully introduced, in that 70s-film-kind-of-way that is sadly missing from most movies today:
-Of course, we get an intimate view of Rocky himself, as he lives a simple, yet difficult life in the heart of Philadelphia. While his loan-shark hustle pays most of the bills, his dedication and passion for boxing is evident in every scene. He’s a kind-hearted man who wants more for himself, and more for his community. Respect.
-We then meet the lovely Adrian, and slowly learn more about her as Rocky peels away her layers of shyness. Her ignorant, alcoholic brother Paulie is never far from view, stirring up drama from what’s probably a textbook case of repression issues. Their dysfunctional sibling relationship is frustrating, but I suppose we owe Paulie a cold one for essentially getting her and Rocky together. (Also, it’s hard not to love Paulie as the series continues. He’s tremendously flawed, but has his redeeming moments. I cry every time in Rocky IV. But of course, I’m getting ahead of myself.)
-And then there’s Mickey. Dear, dear Mickey. He’s such a delightfully-cranky character, who in my mind will always be a cinematic icon. His gruff voice, strong northeastern accent, and no-frills tough-love antics are truly one-of-a-kind. I love him so, so much.
-And, of course, we can’t forget Apollo. Gun to the head, he’s my favorite character. His voice, his confidence. . . he’s got it all. While he’s technically the antagonist (or perhaps a secondary one; I feel like the conflict of this first movie is really man vs. himself) he’s got a personality I just can’t shake. He’s absolutely magnetic.
Favorite Scene: When Adrian surprises Rocky with Butkus, the lovable hound she rescued from the pet shop. He has a beautiful red ribbon tied around his neck, and it always makes me smile. So. sweet.
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Rocky II (1979)
Oh man. Love this one. It miiiight be my favorite to watch. (I know, I know. They all seem to be my favorite.)
Anyway, you can definitely tell the increased budget was put to good use in this sequel; you can feel the quality. I also love the 70s music of the opening credits. And of course, the boxing choreography is noticeably better, with one of the most suspenseful knock-out scenes of the series. I still find myself holding my breath! Get up!
While Rocky II is often criticized for being “slow”, I think it works, just like it does in the original. We get to experience Rocky and Adrian’s wedding, his struggle with advertising and, in turn, his struggle with the simple act of reading. We’re rooting for him even when he’s working in the meat house!
Meanwhile, Apollo is growing evermore bitter after the split-decision fallout from the first film. He wants a rematch, damn it, and he’s going to get it. (Again, even though he’s the opponent, he’s likable. Lovable, in fact. Or maybe it’s just me. Okay, I have a serious crush.)
Favorite Scene: When Rocky visits a very-pregnant Adrian at the pet shop and helps her pour the dog food into a bin. It’s such a simple act of love.
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Rocky III (1982)
Rocky III surprises me every single time. I always seem to forget how much I love it.
While I used to describe it as a “necessary part of the story”, I now view it as crucial. Rocky, of course, has gotten soft with his title defenses and has lost The Eye of the Tiger. As Apollo takes him under his wing after what may be his lowest moment (RIP Mickey) we see our Italian Stallion at his most vulnerable. He gets back to basics, gets a much-needed reality check from Adrian, and then goes on to defeat Clubber Lang.
Favorite Scene: When Clubber calls out Rocky during his award/retirement ceremony. I just love Clubber’s cadence, and his no-frills attitude. Bad. ass.
. . .
Rocky IV (1985)
This film also surprises me every time. While I love it on a scene-by-scene basis (how many inspirational montages can they squeeze in?!) as a whole, it’s definitely the outlier of the series. (gasp!) Come on. It’s true.
Embarrassing propaganda aside, I think this movie suffers from a lack of dialogue. It needs that quintessential, “punchy” Rocky moment. Sure, one could argue that his snails vs. nails comment before Apollo’s exhibition served this “bone head” need, but I think that’s a stretch. We need a “take you back” moment (doo-doo doo doo). We need some Philly-style love, and its absence is notable. Even a pinch would do.
Favorite Scene: When Rocky is walking out to fight Drago and Paulie tells him, “If I could just unzip myself and step out and be someone else, I’d wanna be you. You’re all heart, Rock.” My heart. . . Every. single. time.
. . .
Rocky V (1990)
People hate this one. But you know? I love it. (Yes, more than IV. Sue me.)
The classic Rocky/Philly influence that was lacking in IV was delightfully bountiful in this one. The Balboa Family is back in the neighborhood, and despite their financial hardships, it feels good, yo. They’re home.
I think a lot of people struggle with this movie because Rocky is no longer in the ring. It’s hard to see a new (albeit, paper) champion, and I suppose the street fight at the end just doesn’t cut it for most folks. Me? It makes me so happy, Dear Reader. I could watch it again and again. Having lived in the city, and ridden a SEPTA bus* like the one Tommy Gunn is knocked into, adds a special layer of meaning to this climactic scene.
Favorite scene: After Tommy Gunn is named champ, and he goes to the bar to confront Rocky. An argument ensues, and Tommy punches Paulie and (of course) knocks him to the ground. The look on Rocky’s face at that moment? Priceless.
*When we were college sophomores, my best friend and I nervously took the SEPTA bus into Philly. Stallone himself was making an appearance at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and afterward we got to watch the original film while sitting on the steps. Yes, it was as cool as it sounds.
. . .
One more to go, friends!
Rocky Balboa (2006)
As any true fan might feel, this final chapter made me both excited and nervous. Please, Sly. Do not royally screw this up.
And he didn’t.
Every time I watch this one, I find myself wanting to critique it. I want to find some glaring mistake, perhaps in the same fashion as critics of Rocky V.
It’s too cheesy, unrealistic, blah, blah blah.
But you know? It’s an absolutely perfect, imperfectly-Rocky finale.
We’re reminded once again of what this story’s truly about: love.
Love for ourselves; love for our neighborhoods; love for the flawed yet beautiful people who come and go in our lives.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go put on my comfy pants and get this Rocky Party started.
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SnapDragon is a writer, artist, and admirer of freshly-picked flowers.
Follow her Two-Bit Musings and more on Snippets of SnapDragon.