Franchise with Me: Rocky w/ Michael Palladino

This is the hardest article I’ve ever had to write. When I love a movie, my passion flows into words and it becomes easy to write about. When I hate a film, my passion flows the same way into words and it’s easy to write about. How easy is it to write about something you found mildly entertaining but not great? Not easy.

It took me 31 years to finally see the Rocky movies and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised the 80s sequels aren’t as shitty as I feared, but I’m also pretty bummed to say that they aren’t as shitty as I feared. They are mostly just ok, and ok doesn’t breed passionate word play. So I’m gonna try and I ask you to be patient with me, to summon the strength to analyze something not all that terribly interesting. There’s a fair share of funny and memorable moments tucked away in these movies, but there’s also a lot of standard sports movie horse hockey. I’m going to try though and I don’t have to try alone.

My roommate, Michael Palladino, is a Rocky fan of sorts and definitely has more passion for the films than I do. He’s also way more of an authority on Rocky movies, I’ve only seen all of these once, two months ago, so I tend to forget stuff like people’s names and I completely forgot Burgess Meredith was even in these movies earlier today.

Over the course of this article, Palladino and myself will be reviewing all eight of these movies (Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa, Creed, Creed II), one by one, before delivering our final and definitely different ranking of the entire series.

So round one, ding-ding-ding, let’s go!

Rocky

directed by: John G. Alvidsen ; screenplay by: Sylvester Stallone

starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Joe Spinelli, Tony Burton

runtime: 119 minutes

release date: December 3, 1976

other movies released this year: Taxi Driver, Network, All the President’s Men, Marathon Man, The Outlaw Josey Whales, Obsession, Logan’s Run, Carrie, A Star is Born, The Bad News Bears, The Omen, Futureworld, Bugsy Malone, Assault on Precinct 13, Car Wash, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Mad Dog Morgan, The Shaggy D.A.

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

The reason it took me 31 years to see this celebrated 70s classic is because it beat out Taxi Driver, Network and All the President’s Men for Best Picture. I know, I know, I wasn’t even alive at that time, but those movies are absolute bona fide masterpieces and there’s three of them. Rocky, from my understanding at the time, was an underdog sports picture that trades powerful and self-critical, post-Vietnam clarity (and cynicism) for a rah-rah he’s an American boxer traditional male hero story. I guess it’s “what the people needed” back then so I have to respect their wishes, no matter how stupid they were. So obviously I went into Rocky with a huge bias against it, and to my surprise, I ended up liking it.

LIKING, not loving. Rocky is a good movie, but it obviously doesn’t reach the heights of the three juggernauts it was up against in the Oscars, and you know what? That’s ok. It’s a simple underdog story done right, with an instantly likeable protagonist in Sylvester Stallone, who very smartly plays stupid. The original Rocky is definitely the most nuanced and realistic of the series, even though that low-key feel often dips into tediousness, especially towards the middle. Apollo Creed as played by Carl Weathers, is a good antagonist because he never slips into the unrealistically evil trope the opposing boxer usually does in these movies. He’s mostly an all right dude trying to better his career, but he’s seriously cocky and kind of a dick, so we’d like to see someone shut his mouth with a punch. Burgess Meredith is great as Rocky’s trainer, Talia Shire is good as a clearly traumatized and withdrawn person who has her entire Thanksgiving dinner COMPLETELY ruined and Burt Young plays an asshole very well. Because that’s what Paulie is, a total piece of shit narcissist that should have been hit by a fucking bus at the end of the first one. Instead, he’s in six of these goddamn movies!

One of the things Rocky does well that none of the sequels, safe for maybe the Creeds, is realistic fights with actual blood. The ending fight with Apollo Creed is not romanticized at all, it’s all pretty realistic and spares us of having to scream at the screen “Oh, come on!” It’s a smart decision to not have Rocky win this fight, because he still gains a mad amount of respect from everyone for more than holding his own against the Heavy Weight Champion of the World. It’s a good message for kids that the world isn’t over if you don’t win, and if you tried your best, you should certainly be proud. That’s what I’m teaching my little bastards, what about your little bastards, Michadino?

They’re on their own. And speaking of things that stand on their own…

If you’re watching this series of movies for the first time, take a minute to appreciate the first movie before you move on to the next one. Because eventually, you will notice that things are getting more and more outlandish around part III or IV, and you’ll wonder how we could have strayed this far from home.

Now, I’ve seen this movie and it’s first three sequels hundreds of times, it seems. My family first got HBO in the late 80’s and the first four Rocky’s seemed to do the rounds at least twice a week. So yes, I’ve been fed a diet of Rocky movies since before Rocky V swooped in and almost ruined everything. (What a time to be alive.)

I appreciate this movie so much more as an adult. As a kid, I saw this one as “the slow, quiet one.” Some of the sequels have that moster-movie feel, where Rocky’s main goal is only to beat up the seemingly-unbeatable bad guy boxer. His motivation in this one is nowhere near as black-and-white. He’s a man who just hit 30, (which would be about 37 now, if you adjust for inflation) and he thinks he’ll never move past his station in life. He’s depressed. He’s lonely. He doesn’t have much self-confidence. In fact, when the promoter asks him if he wants a shot at the Heaveyweight Champion, he doesn’t shoot up out of his chair, shake the man’s hand and say “I won’t let you down, sir!” Quite the opposite. He gives him a “no,” flat out. And when he does finally take up the offer, he makes it clear that his only goal is to hang with Creed for all ten rounds. Winning never really enters his mind.

Let’s not dismiss the depth of the Rocky Balboa character. He’s become sort of a punching bag (Yeah, I know. And I refuse to apologize) over the years as some big, dumb goof who’s only meant to exchange punches. But Stallone, who IS a good actor when he really dials in, brought a lot to that character. He himself was going nowhere in the mid 70’s. He had a handful of films on his resume, one of which was a softcore porn. He thought he was done, and he let himself sink deep into the blues. And that comes through so clearly in this movie. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it in awhile, go watch it again and let yourself notice the subtleties in Stallone’s performance. He’s better than you remember.

I still think Taxi Driver should have won best picture, but I get it. It was the Bicentennial year and people wanted to cheer up after Watergate and Vietnam. What are you gonna do?

Rocky II

directed by: Sylvester Stallone ; screenplay by: Sylvester Stallone

starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinelli, Sylvia Meals, Seargeoh Stallone

runtime: 120 minutes

release date: June 15, 1979

other movies released this year: Alien, Apocalypse Now, Kramer vs Kramer, The Jerk, The Amityville Horror, Salem’s Lot, 10, Stalker, Manhattan, The Warriors, Mad Max, Escape From Alcatraz, Hair, The Visitor, The China Syndrome, Phantasm, Tess, Hardcore, 1941, Being There, The Life of Brian, Moonraker, Meatballs, The Muppets Movie, Breaking Away, The Brood, The Tin Drum, Gas Pump Girls

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

I like Rocky II quite a bit and I always have. First of all, the entire first act is about how happy Rocky is. He’s married, he has more money in the bank than he ever had in his life, and he’s still on a high from going the distance with the Champion. He’s got a playful attitude now, one that compels him to do such things as invite a tiger to his wedding. (The tiger does not RSVP.)

We get an additional layer to the story in the sequel, as Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed has a lot more room to shine. His motivation to prove to the world that Rocky just caught him on an off-night really drives the plot forward. He feels less like a supporting character at this point, and the movie is better off for it.

A sequel was inevitable, despite the “ain’t gonna be no rematch” line at the end of the first one. And of course, Rocky was going to win the championship this time. But even though we all know that going in, I still think they did a fairly good job getting to that point.

That said, the whole part with Adrian going into a coma is kind of dumb and the only good thing that came from it was Burgess Meredith’s monologue in the hospital chapel.

All in all, great sequel, okay film.

I think this is the one sequel I was the most apathetic about. The problem for me lies in finding a tone. Rocky II just isn’t serious or genuine enough to be a good drama (like the original) and not campy enough to be a goofy action film (like III and IV).

So, Rocky has gained the respect and love of the people of Philadelphia and really, all over the country. He’s doing good but Adrian slips into a coma (really dumb, you’re right Palladino) which takes up a far meatier portion of the movie than it probably should. God those hospital scenes were boring as all hell. The boxing scenes are a major step down in quality and realism from the original, but also not nearly as ridiculously over-the-top as the III and IV.

However, there is some good stuff here. The best decision this movie makes is bringing Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed deeper into the fold, he gives probably the best performance of the film and his part would only grow in future entries. Burgess Meredith continues to be solid all the way through as are Stallone, Shire and Young (as much as I hate his character, he nails this type of idiot). Oh and Rocky finally takes Adrian to the zoo, and I like zoos. 5 stars for zoos.

I’m struggling to write more about this entry because it’s so vanilla. It’s certainly not a bad movie, it’s just a painfully mediocre one. I did however find some stray notes in my phone from when I watched this two months ago. I can’t decipher what half of them mean:

  • Wheelchair Rant! – why wouldn’t he just be like, why are you mad?
  • Burgie Meredith always seems like a confused senior citizen that just woke up from a nap
  • Burt Young – why do we keep this schmohawk around?
  • Skip to the part they’re friends – Rocky and Apollo
  • They finally end up at the zoo
  • Rocky never uses condoms
  • Rocky can’t read
  • Rocky bounces balls on gym bathroom floors – ewww
  • Adrienne’s baby looks like an actual primate, maybe she was having an affair at her favorite place – The Zoo

Anyway, that’s about all on this one.

Rocky III

directed by: Sylvester Stallone ; screenplay by: Sylvester Stallone

starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Mr. T, Tony Burton, Ian Fried

runtime: 100 minutes

release date: May 28, 1982

other movies released this year: First Blood, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, Blade Runner, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Thing, Poltergeist, The Verdict, Fanny & Alexander, Diner, Sophie’s Choice, Creepshow, Annie, Fitzcarraldo, The Dark Crystal, The Secret of NIMH, Grease 2, The King of Comedy, 48 Hrs, Gandhi, The Year of Living Dangerously, Victor/Victoria, Tootsie, The Beast Within, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Conan the Barbarian, Night Shift, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED Hands down, my favorite of the 80s Rocky sequels, mostly because it’s so dang fun. It drops the slow burn of the first two movies, and never attempts to be as serious or realistic. Sure, Burgess Meredith dies and that’s a bummer and a half, but that only inches Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed closer to Rocky Balboa as his trainer. In a wonderfully fun bromance including the shortest short shorts I’ve seen outside of a drag bar, Rocky and Apollo become best buds and it’s awesome. Even more so than Rocky and Adrien, I think the core relationship of this series is between Rocky and Apollo. These two would die for each other and there’s a deep mutual respect and understanding. Rocky and Apollo understand each other because they are each other. Sure, Adrien and Rocky love each other, but she’ll never understand Rocky and his motivations the way Apollo does. 

This one has maybe the lowest stakes out of any of them, with Mr. T’s Clubber Lang being the series’ most unthreatening villain outside of Tommy Gunn. Mr. T is absolutely atrocious, blazing onto the screen with 0% charisma, obviously reading his lines from a cue card, every inflection, the same. This is one of the driest villain performances not only in Rocky, but in the entire action/sports movie genre. I for one didn’t care, I think the stupidness of Clubber Lang works in favor with the tone this one sets.  It’s about male bonding, just guys hanging out, working out (both physically and through their hang ups and problems.) This is what I think of when I think of great “guy movies” rather than many of the frantically overcompensating and painfully self-serious action vehicles of the time period. This is a bonafide good time. 

It’s fun, for the most part. It starts with one of my favorite opening montages ever. Rocky is the People’s Champion as well as the actual champ. We know this because there’s rapid shots of him hosting telethons or The Muppet Show, intercut with him delivering knockout blows to nameless boxers around the world. Then Paulie ruins a good thing by throwing a liquor bottle at a Rocky pinball machine and getting arrested. (I know it feels like none of what I just said makes sense, but that’s pretty much what happened.)

By the way, we need to talk about Paulie. We’ve just entered the third film, and at this point in the series, Paulie has:

  • Thrown Adrian’s Thanksgiving turkey out the window.
  • Yelled at a pregnant Adrian so much that she went into premature labor.
  • Called Adrian a whore after he found out she and Rocky were hooking up.
  • Only come to Rocky when he needs something.
  • Had to be bailed out because, as I mentioned earlier, he was arrested for throwing a liquor bottle through a Rocky pinball machine.

Keep in mind that there are five movies left and Paulie’s biggest fuck-up moment is yet to come. Although he truly is in rare form this time, especially when he tags along with Rocky and Adrian to Apollo’s gym in South Central L.A. and constantly makes racist remarks in a room full of young black men who could clearly punch him in the mouth so hard that he’d be shitting teeth all week.

I’m now full of rage at the thought of Paulie, so I’ll try to be brief with the rest of my review.

Rocky’s playful attitude, bad jokes and Rocky-isms are completely absent from this one. He’s no fun now. Just a smiling, media savvy man in a suit. It kind of breaks my heart. Only five years from the original and he already seems like a different person. Mickey puts it best when he tells Rocky the hard truth. “The worst thing that happened to you… that can happen to any fighter: you got civilized.”

To this day, I do not understand the appeal of Mr. T, outside of nostalgia. He’s a godawful actor in this and the sneering and growling he does is total cringe now. The whole Hulk Hogan scene, although fun, is also ridiculous as hell.

In the end, my favorite elements of the film basically come down to the Mickey death scene, which I think they absolutely nailed, and the new friendship between Creed and Balboa. Everything else about the film is just everything else, as far as I’m concerned.

Rocky IV

directed by: Sylvester Stallone ; screenplay by: Sylvester Stallone

starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, Tony Burton, Michael Pataki, Sylvia Meals

runtime: 90 minutes (shortest entry)

release date: November 27, 1985

other movies released this year: The Breakfast Club, Clue, After Hours, The Goonies, St. Elmo’s Fire, A Room with a View, Teen Wolf, Witness, Legend, The Return of the Living Dead, Weird Science, Commando, Desperately Seeking Susan, Fright Night, The Last Dragon, Day of the Dead, Ran, Fletch, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Out of Africa, Red Sonja, A View to a Kill, Re-Animator, Brazil, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Tampopo, Phenomena, Ewoks: The Battle of Endor

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

This one has a robot in it!

Seriously, Rocky buys Paulie a robot for his birthday. Halfway through the movie, Paulie reprgrams its voice somehow so it can sound like a sexy lady.

I’m not fucking with you.

Anyway, remember how Apollo first thought that fighting Rocky would be a walk in the park? Remember how he hardly trained? Remember how that worked out for him in the end? Well, the man simply does not learn. And this time it costs him big, as he gets beaten to death by what seems like a Soviet version of the Terminator. Therefore, Rocky must go to the Soviet Union and fight Ivan Drago on Christmas, of all days. Now, I know this may be hard to believe, but Rocky wins. It was touch-and-go there for a bit, but wouldn’t ya know it, the little guy comes through.

Stallone is a Reagan Republican through and through, and many of the movies he had any shred of creative control over reflect this. For instance, in the trainwreck cop movie known as Cobra, Stallone’s character tells the female lead that the only reason there is a cult of ax murderers on the loose in L.A. is because bleeding heart liberals enacted policies that keep them out of prison. Stallone brings his insightful and nuanced right wing idealist views to Rocky IV and he seems to make a case that all those damn Russians need is a good punch in the nose and then they’ll show a little respect and we can all move on with our lives. I mean, for fuck’s sake, he has the Russians cheer for him at the end. That comes across as a kind of nationalist masturbation fantasy to me, and I never really liked that aspect of this movie.

So what do I like about it? James Brown has a fun guest appearance. The training montage is one of the best of the series and it introduced a lot of 80’s bodybuilders to the Dragon Press. And the soundtrack is full of bangers.

At 90 minutes, this is the tightest entry of the entire series and I admire the hell out of it for that. It’s a lean, mean, cheesy machine, that’s goofy with the Paulie robot crap and all the “I’m rich in the 80s” visuals, downright offensive and cringe-y with the Rocky ends the cold war by beating a subhuman killing machine (how all Russians are portrayed in this entry), and yet, the easiest and arguably most fun watch of the entire franchise.

This one takes absolutely NO TIME to let any kind of emotional family drama sit because they need to get you in and out of there in a buck-fifty. For someone like myself, that was never really 100% sold on the dramatic stakes and character development of any one of these movies outside of Creed, that’s really okay by me.

The fight sequences in this one are amazingly terrible, so unrealistic and lacking of self-awareness that you almost have to double check the DVD cover to confirm Rocky IV isn’t actually directed by David Wain. Stallone (as a writer/director) viciously pummels you with the stupid until you’re too dumb to care. The Apollo versus Drago match is fantastically stupid, kind of shocking but anything from heartbreaking. It begins with James Brown joining Apollo Creed in a rendition of Living in America, meant to openly mock the stupid Russian animal that is Drago (this is how THEY see him, not how I see him, I have nothing against Russian people, so please calm down SJW mercenaries, put your oat milk blasters down). The fight begins and Apollo gets beaten to death, but it’s all done so melodramatically it immediately becomes parody. When a movie tries this hard to make me cry with TV Movie of the Week tactics, it’s humorous. Sorry, I’m not a snob, I just have a triple digit I.Q.

The other fight sequence, even more outrageous, is the finale where Rocky comes through and beats Drago so hard he gets the entire Russian crowd to openly commit treason by chanting “USA!” and “Rocky!” The suggestion that some poor, beaten down Russian farmer would risk being tortured death along with his entire family so they can express their fandom of The Italian Stallion is wildly hilarious if not terribly problematic (especially for people seeing it in 1985.)

In conclusion, this is the only Rocky movie I would probably ever rewatch outside of the original Creed. It’s just a priceless cultural artifact, much like the Mona Lisa.

Rocky V

directed by: John G. Alvidsen ; screenplay: Sylvester Stallone

starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Tommy Morrison, Tony Burton, Richard Gant, Burgess Meredith

runtime: 104 minutes

release date: November 16, 1990

other movies released this year: GoodFellas, Dances with Wolves, Misery, Edward Scissorhands, Jacob’s Ladder, Hard to Kill, Awakenings, Arachnophobia, Pretty Woman, Cry Baby, Total Recall, Marked for Death, Close Up, The Hunt for Red October, Ghost, Days of Thunder, Lionheart, Paris is Burning, Miller’s Crossing, Men at Work, Mermaids, Kindergarten Cop, Problem Child, Ernest Goes to Jail, Tremors, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, House Party, Flatliners, Dark Man, The Witches, Young Guns II, The King of New York, Darkman, La Femme Nikita, Dick Tracy, The Exorcist III, Alice, The Godfather Part III

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

Wow, they really fucked this one up. I guess I see the intent of bringing back original director John G. Alvidsen for this one. The sequels, especially III and IV, were super cheesy and ridiculous under Stallone’s control. I mean, where could you even go after IV? The moon? That would have been my bid for Rocky V, but studio execs wanted to take it in a more grounded direction, in keeping with the original. The irony is they came up with something that is somehow more bizarre than an entry on the moon would be. 

The story of this one is Rocky is getting old and can’t fight no more cause his brain is all sick. He single-handedly ended the Cold War by making a borsch-flavored pussy out of Dolph Lundgren and everyone in the country thinks he’s Jesus 2.0. It’s looking like Rocky and Adrian are finally going to retire, except there’s one problem. THEY’RE ALL OUT OF MONEY. How could this happen? Surely they aren’t that reckless with their spending. One word – Paulie. The real villain of the franchise, a shitty brother-in-law character that sucks the life blood out of you and your family, a narcissistic vulture that you can’t murder and bury in the backyard cause your wife loves them or some shit. It seems Paulie has signed over the power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant who lost the entire Balboa fortune on bad real-estate investments. If only Paulie knew how to read! So now Rocky and family have jack shit and have to move back to his (what’s a nice way to say “shit-poor”?) neighborhood in Philly. 

Rocky V’s biggest problem is that it’s boring, it’s a giant leap backwards from crazy town after III and IV. It doesn’t even work as a low key drama because the dialogue is so oddly emotionally detached, rife with TV movie cliches and terrible performances across the board. The young actor that plays Sly’s kid is bad even for child movie actor standards and the new protege/surprise villain Tommy Gunn is an absolute fucking plane crash. And like trying to investigate a real life plane crash, it’s hard to determine the chain of events that led to the “explosion” of awfulness. Was it a terribly written part from the get-go, putting “actor”/athlete Tommy Morrison at a disadvantage, or was it a decently written (albeit, one-dimensional) role Tommy Morrison just fucked up because he has the charisma of a can of beans? We’ll never know, but we will always know that all things Tommy Gunn fucking suck. 

What else? Burgess Meredith returns for some lackluster flashback sequences and character actor Richard Gant (the morgue technician that becomes Jason and french kisses a dude covered in shaving cream in Jason Goes to Hell) does a really bad Don King impression. There’s a lot of on-the-nose moral lessons sloppily disguised as plot points and an ending that is so irrelevant to the material and bonkers, I actually kind of enjoyed it. Tommy Gunn punches Paulie in the face causing Rocky to challenge him to a fight in the parking lot of a bar, and the two battle in the parking lot and it’s ridiculous. A bunch of Dutch angles, dumb one-liners and over-the-top facial expressions. It’s like a dream sequence in a Giallo horror film. RI-DIC-U-LOUS. Too bad the rest of movie isn’t this enjoyably bonkers. 

Pally-Dino, what did you think? And do you remember that Don King actor from Jason Goes to Hell

Yes I do, and fuck that movie. And this movie, too.

This movie could have been so much better. The opening scene in the Russian locker room between Adrian and Rocky makes you think you’ve just sat down for a movie about the true costs of the sacrifices we make. Rocky got his brains smashed on the other side of the world in order to get revenge for his friend’s death and show the world that America has a bigger dick than Russia. Now he’s slipping into a mental decline and additional blows to the head are out of the question.

From that point, there’s a million ways this story could go. But they chose to go with Paulie’s next big fuckup, who I agree is the real villain of the series. Paulie makes a deal with a shady accountant who ends up walking away with all of Rocky’s fortune. So they have to move right back to the same little duplex in Philadelphia that they got in the second movie and start at Square One.

And of course, Paulie gets to live with them, because codependence and pretending certain family members aren’t toxic is a deeply rooted Italian-American tradition. (I’m allowed to say this because my last name ends in a vowel.)

Thinking about this movie gives me a fucking headache, so I’ll keep it simple and say that the only real bright spot is that Talia Shire does her best work in this one. At least I think so. The rest of the movie blows, especially when Rocky and Tommy do their little street fight. They want us to think that these two men wrestling around and throwing each other into piles of garbage is better than having the climactic fight inside a boxing ring because street fights have no rules. Well, no. I refuse to accept that and I refuse to speak any further about this movie.

Rocky Balboa

directed by: Sylvester Stallone ; screenplay by: Sylvester Stallone

starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton, Geraldine Hughes, James Francis Kelly III, Pedro Lovell

runtime: 102 minutes

release date: December 20, 2006

other movies released this year: Madea’s Family Reunion, The Departed, Cars, The Prestige, Apocalypto, Invincible, ATL, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Silent Hill, Lady in the Water, The Illusionist, 300, Step Up, Nacho Libre, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Queen, Tristan & Isolde, The Covenant, Children of Men, The Fountain, Babel, Idiocracy, The Black Dahlia, Black Snake Moan, The Hills Have Eyes, Date Movie, Gridiron Gang

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

I feel like this movie exists because everyone knew Rocky V was supposed to be the bookend and that would be that for old Rocky. It did not work out that way at all, so we get Rocky Balboa. In this entry, Rocky is pushing 60 and he has much of the same depressed attitude he had at 30. Adrian is gone, he has a less-than-great relationship with his son, and the only thing that gets him out of bed in the morning is working at his new restaurant, Adrian’s. And by working, I mean going from table to table to tell boxing stories to his fans. Not a bad gig, but it’s not boxing.

The plot device that sets this whole thing in motion is a computer simulated match between Rocky and the current champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon. It’s shown on Sportscenter one night and it looks like a cutscene from EA Sports’ Fight Night games. Rocky wins the “cartoon fight,” as Paulie calls it, and before you know it, Dixon’s pride is hurt and he’s ready to throw hands in an exhibition match. The hands are thrown, and just like the first one, Rocky goes the distance but loses by split decision. The winner is announced as Rocky is halfway to the locker room, smiling and waving the whole way while the crowd cheers him. He’s totally ignoring the announcement and is only focussed on the applause. I thought that was a nice touch and was a perfect way to end his last professional fight in the series.

Again, this movie succeeds where the last one failed. It takes us back to the first one so well that it almost feels like you could watch Rocky and then Rocky Balboa right after and you’d hardly even notice that there are three movies between them.

What do you think, Margetis? Does this entry properly honor what the original film was all about, or am I talking out of my ass? Please make your answer as innapopriate as possible.

No, you are most certainly not talking out of your fanny.

I think this is what they were going for when they set out to make #5. This one seems way more in tune to Stallone and Alvidsen‘s original vision. Gone is the hokey robot business, the fake-ass Don King named after another principal character, and really everything that the 80s sequels were all about, for better or worse. This may even be the most tender entry of the entire series, entirely more focused on Stallone’s character and his relationships with the people in his life rather than pulse-pounding smack downs. I like that because people tend to tenderize with age, both physically and emotionally. Usually the more you see of life, the more at peace with it you are. I would have hated this movie as a rebellious teen, probably slamming it for being so gosh darn sentimental. But to be honest after “the trainwreck of a movie” Rocky V was, it was a relief to be watching a movie about actual human beings.

On first watch I really hated the son character (portrayed by a pre-This Is Us Milo Ventimigilia) but when I think about it, it must have been a living hell for this guy growing up. His father is usually gone, obviously putting his career before his family, evidenced by the fact he would constantly put himself in potentially and sometimes probably life-threatening matches. The fifth one digs into some of the neglect the son gets at key moments of an adolescent’s life – first love, first day at school, ect. So how the fuck does Rocky not understand that when you raise a child like this, they follow your example and put their career before their family? Also, can you even begin to imagine everyone in your life coming up to you and wanting to talk about your legendary dad? Because to you, he’s not a legend, he’s just dad. Can you imagine the constant paranoia that the only reason the closest people in your life are around you is to be close to your dad’s legend? That’s some therapy twice a week type of shit, lemme tell you. Also, how do you live your own life in a way that even comes close to rivaling that? How do you ever become your own person? Not all of that is Rocky’s fault, but that doesn’t really change anything. Let’s cut this kid some slack, ok?

I obviously put a lot more thought into this character than the movie itself, but so what? It’s not like I was fantasizing about what it would be like to have Rocky as my dad. Cause I definitely didn’t…anyway…

Creed

directed by: Ryan Coogler ; screenplay by: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington

starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew, Wood Harris, Ritchie Coster, Graham McTavish

runtime: 133 minutes (longest entry)

release date: November 25, 2015

other movies released this year: Fifty Shades of Grey, Mad Max: Fury Road, Spotlight, The Revenant, Carol, Anomalisa, Brookyln, Room, The Big Short, Sicario, Focus, The Martian, Aloha, Entourage: The Movie, The Hateful Eight, Spectre, Trainwreck

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

Here it is, the best entry of the entire series. Coming in at 133 minutes long, complete with well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, a tight origin story plot structure, riveting fight sequences and surprisingly nuanced and even touching performances. It’s Ryan Coogler’s Creeeeeed

I was doing an impression of a boxing announcer, did you get that? It’s hard when you can’t do the voice, but I think I got that across. 

Creed follows Apollo Creed’s bastard son, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) who quits his shitty corporate job to become a full time boxer. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, much to the disapproval of his adoptive mother (Apollo Creed’s wife, played here by Phylicia Rashad), so he basically begs Rocky to train him. Rocky takes a lot of convincing but decides to do it, and the rest of the movie is them training or fighting. Pretty standard underdog athlete movie plot, we’ve seen it before, but rarely as good as this.  

I know I’m going to get a lot of flack from Balbo-nerds (or whatever Rocky fans call themselves) but this is better than the original. It has the best director of the franchise in Fruitvale Station and Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan is an objectively better actor than Sylvester Stallone, and speaking of Sylvester Stallone, he gives his best performance of the franchise here. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca is both a more dynamic character than Talia Shire’s Adrian and someone you don’t constantly feel sorry for. All due respect to Jason Schwartzman’s mom, Tessa delivers a better performance than Talia did in any of these. Not to say that an abused and beaten down woman like Adrian isn’t a character worth exploring, just that in the time allotted in these pictures for the spouse characters, it would seem like an unfair representation of the psychological effects of neglect, abuse and abandonment. Anyway, the only thing that’s not as good as the original here is the opposing fighter. It’s hard to beat Carl Weathers but I don’t even think that’s what they were going for. This movie, as opposed to the original, is much less concerned with WHO our hero is fighting rather than why he’s fighting in the first place. 

This is a really good film, maybe just shy of a truly great one, but it’s better than anyone could have imagined for a reboot of a decades old movie franchise. Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Sylvester Stallone all deliver powerful work but Coogler is the secret sauce of this movie. He really knows how to tell a mainstream action story and it’s a shame we haven’t gotten more from him. 

Passive-Agressidino, you still prefer the original to this one, right? 

Actually, I have to say that this one outshines the original for me. I don’t care what the Balboa-nerds, as you called them, have to say about this. I was raised on the first four movies and my Rocky credentials are all in order, fully notorized and board certified.

So what makes it my number one in the series? It honors the franchise but also knows that it can be better. It doesn’t just take the template of the first one and make Creed the new Rocky and Rocky the new Mickey. In fact, it has a whole different structure than the other films. Like you said, Margetis, the opponent in this movie isn’t really the other fighter. It’s Creed’s longing to show people he’s not just a name.

And yes, no disrespect to Talia Shire, but Tessa Thompson’s Bianca is a way better character that inherently brings way more to the table than Adrian did in the first film.

Also, Rocky is fun again! He’s got jokes, he’s got his little Rocky-isms, and he even dances a bit. I missed that Rocky. Maybe he just lightened up a bit after Paulie finally died. Even though the film has some of the most truly gripping moments in the franchise, I still get a huge kick out of the scene when Adonis, Bianca and Rocky celebrate Adonis’ first big professional victory by eating Breyer’s and falling asleep on the couch. I guess I’m just happy that Rocky has some nice young people looking out for him after all he’s been through.

Creed II

directed by: Steven Caple, Jr. ; screenplay by: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone, Sascha Penn, Cheo Hodari Coker

starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, Russell Hornsby, Milo Ventimiglia, Brigitte Nielsen

running time: 130 minutes

release date: November 21, 2018

other movies released this year: Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Incredibles 2, Bohemian Rhapsody, Aquaman, Deadpool 2, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, The Favourite, Roma, Green Book, BlacKkKlansman, A Quiet Place, Hereditary, Eighth Grade, Climax, Burning

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

When Creed hit big, there was immediately talk of a sequel. And when I heard that, I remember saying to a freind of mine, “How dumb would it be if it was about Creed fighting Drago Jr.?!”

I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong. Let’s be real, the fourth film is kind of ridiculous. But they were able to take what is basically Rocky IV, Part 2 and make it so much more layered than anyone expected. Drago isn’t a Terminator clone anymore, he’s a real man who’s country turned its back on him, and he puts the blame squarely on Rocky’s shoulders. He’s laser focussed on making his son the next incarnation of the hearltess punching machine that his government turned Drago himself into, and I have to say, the dynamic between the father and son is more compelling than you’d think.

Again, it’s hard to think that a “sequel” to the goofiest entry in the series could be this deep. In fact, every film in the series that came after Rocky IV seems to almost ignore it. The scene where Drago drops into Adrian’s one night and looks at the pictures on the wall is a great example of this. “No pictures of me?” he says to Rocky, who replies, “No… No, there are no pictures of that.” The full-on revisitation of Rocky IV has so much more meaning after years of being semi-disavowed. The franchise no longer brushes Rocky IV off, because now it’s been redefined as the most brutal experience Rocky was ever put through. He never talks about what happened in Russia because it’s the last thing he wants to talk about.

Add in a whole wedding-and-a-new-baby angle between Adonis and Bianca, (which is better than the wedding-and-a-new-baby angle from Rocky II) and you’ve got a solid film that pulls off a pretty incredible feat.

Still not the best in the series, though.

That’s nuts you were able to predict the plot of the movie, but maybe it just means Hollywood chose to do the most uncreative and predictable thing possible.

I liked this one far more than I thought I would. I remember seeing the first Creed in theaters and loving it, but watching the very stupid trailer for Creed II made me decide to just wait for streaming. Make no mistake, Creed II doesn’t compare to the original Creed. Gone is the remarkable Ryan Coogler and in his stead is Steven Caple, Jr. The look of the movie is much more commercial/generic than Coogler’s film, there aren’t those awesome shot set-ups like Adonis running down the street with the neighborhood. Excuse me for being a Frasier, but it’s missing those fine auteur touches.

Sylvester Stallone isn’t given enough to do in this one but Michael B. Jordan is as solid as always. Tessa Thompson continues to make the character of Bianca interesting and her Sound of Metal-esque performance artist hearing loss drama is far more interesting than Adrian’s coma, zoo visits or ruined Thanksgiving dinner.

The real surprise here is Dolph Lundgren, and both his and his son’s characters. Maybe making up for his one-dimensional characterization in Rocky IV, Drago is fantastically three-dimensional here and him and his son offer the more compelling dynamic to Stallone and Jordan’s master and student. There’s a scene at the end where Drago’s son loses and instead of turning his back on him like the entirety of Russia did to Drago, he embraces his son and tells him it’s all right. Easily the most heartfelt and genuinely moving moment of the entire film.

The fight sequences continue to be extremely well shot. I don’t know if you mentioned it in the review, Palladino, but I remember you saying to me the fight scenes are filmed like real HBO boxing matches. I don’t really go in much for boxing, but I’ll take your word for it.

The series has finally dug its way out of campy town with the seriousness of this and the previous Creed. I’m actually excited to see the third one with Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country, Da 5 Bloods, The Last Black Man in San Fransisco) as the villain. Probably won’t rival Coogler’s original, but I’m all aboard the Creed train.

FINAL RANKINGS and SENTIMENTS

MARGETIS = BLUE ; PALLADINO = RED

  1. Creed
  2. Rocky
  3. Rocky III
  4. Rocky Balboa
  5. Creed II
  6. Rocky IV
  7. Rocky II
  8. Rocky V

All in all, this wasn’t the best film series I’ve seen but it might be the most consistent. Besides V none of them are flat-out bad. I understand why people love underdog stories and this one in particular, but at the end of the day Rocky isn’t that relatable of a character for me. Probably cause he’s such a dumb shit and I’m the smartest person alive.

  1. Creed
  2. Rocky
  3. Rocky II
  4. Creed II
  5. Rocky Balboa
  6. Rocky IV
  7. Rocky III
  8. Rocky V

Even though some of these movies’ choices can be a little baffling, I will never not enjoy the Rocky franchise. Sometimes it seems like Stallone just likes to jerk himself off, but after watching all eight of these things in a row, you start to see what could happen when you want to stay loyal to a mythology while also trying it from a new angle. The Rocky franchise hits both ends of the spectrum on that one. And when it’s good, it’s great, and when it’s bad, it’s still entertaining as hell.

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