Rocky II: The Superb Sequel

Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.” – Dante Alighieri

The film industry has been in the business of making sequels since the dawn of film as a recordable medium. Most movie sequels are forgettable, few are worth watching, even fewer are worthy of the original (assuming the original was any good), and only a handful have ever surpassed their predecessor. It’s no secret that Rocky (1975) is one of my all-time favorite movies, (you can read a full review of the movie I wrote for Prince Rachel Reviews here) and while I enjoy the sequels, some more ironically than others, none of them can stand alongside the original as a true American classic.

But Rocky II (1979) comes pretty damn close.

If the original was the quintessential underdog story, a propaganda piece for the illusive American Dream, then it’s sequel is a deconstruction of those themes, showing us that just because Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) overcame the odds, doesn’t mean that his life will suddenly be easy. Balboa’s eternal optimism is tested, and his fears threatens to consume him, destroying everything he holds dear.

The movie opens with a recap of the climatic finale of Rocky, and picks-up almost immediately afterwards with Rocky and the champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) recuperating in a hospital. Creed is anxious for a rematch, but at the urging of his girlfriend Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky refuses and announces his intention to give up boxing. Things are looking up for Balboa, he marries Adrian, and uses his new found wealth to buy a new home, a new car, and fancy clothes. But the dream quickly turns into a nightmare, Rocky, uncomfortable with his new found fame and botches a job as a pitch man for commercials. Unable to get a white-collar job, Rocky is forced to work as a meatpacker, until he’s laid off and ends up working at his trainer Mickey’s (Burgess Meredith) gym. Their money troubles piling, Adrian returns to her old job at the pet store, working long hours despite now being pregnant.

In the meantime, Apollo Creed, facing hatred, scorn, and accusations that he deliberately threw the fight to make it a close one, relentless hounds Rocky for a rematch, in spite of the warnings of his own trainer “Duke” (Tony Burton, whose role gets bigger in each sequel). But “Duke” is not the only one who’s afraid, though Creed can’t show it, he’s living in fear too; fear that he might be washed up and that he’ll lose the respect he worked so hard to obtain. Ultimately, Rocky succumbs to Apollo’s pressure, despite Adrian’s disapproval, and begins training for the rematch. Training goes poorly because Rocky’s heart just isn’t in it, and when Adrian suffers from complications while giving birth to their son, she slips into a coma. Distraught, Rocky gives up training to spend every waking moment by Adrian’s side.

Rocky had deluded himself into believing that the thing he had to fear the most was not having enough money to care for Adrian, that by returning to boxing he could get some money and somehow that money would keep them both safe. But when the unthinkable happens, and it appears as if Rocky is going to lose the woman he loves, he’s inconsolable. What Rocky failed to realize, and what many of us fail to realize, is that the so-called “American Dream” is a pure fantasy. Sure, having money brings a measure of comfort, but to be afraid of losing “things” or “stuff” is to set yourself up for devastation when you lose something that really matters; like someone you love.

And the worst part? You have no control over whether the people you love live another day or die tomorrow, stick by you till the end or pack up their things and leave. All we can do is control our response to such a tragedy, and even then, we don’t usually do that very well.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou

So don’t let your fears get the best of you, you can’t control what happens anyway. The best we can do is hope and pray that tomorrow will be better. That’s what Balboa does; when he’s not at Adrian’s bedside, he’s praying in the hospital’s chapel (sincere prayer is a remedy that I highly recommend). Of course, for Rocky and Adrian, things get much better. She comes out of her coma, Rocky trains harder than he ever has before, and rises up to finally beat Apollo Creed. If anything, the film teaches us that it’s okay if life get’s you down, we’re only human after all. But at some point, we have to rise to the occasion, and do to fear what Mickey recommends Rocky do to Creed:

“Why don’t you stand up and fight this guy HARD? Like you done before that was beautiful! But don’t lay down like this!” – Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith)

And when you do overcome your fears, just don’t forget who Rocky thanked for his victory…

– Stuart Smith

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