Of all the Rocky films, this was the one I was most apprehensive about revisiting...
You see Rocky II was a big favourite of mine as a kid, I had it on VHS and watched it routinely. As a result, it's probably the one film in the series I've racked up the most watches of. As a kid I really enjoyed it; I loved how it immediately followed on from the first film and felt like a natural extension of the events and characters that occurred there. I liked that it dared to explore the after effects of fame and the realisation that it wasn't all it was that you had dreamed of - something that, at the time, I didn't think was captured enough on film.
So, does Rocky II stand up today?
Well as an extension of the first film I still maintain that it does. It feels like a natural progression even if the decision to set it immediately after the events of the first bout is an instant continuity nightmare with new, longer hair dos on virtually all the cast and an obviously slimmer Burt Young.
But as an entertainment, Stallone's direction (coupled with his occasionally somewhat flabby script) doesn't reach the same peaks as John G Avildsen managed with the first film, even though it is clearly and most definitively set in the same authentic world. Unlike the original film, which was brimming with an energy that made it sail along, I did find my attention wandering once in a while across the almost two hour running time, which was really disappointing.
Where Rocky II does succeed however is in fleshing out Apollo Creed's character so that he is more than just this powerful threat and vision of success and allows Carl Weathers to give us more than just his (enjoyable) Ali impression, as well as softening Mickey's relationship to Rocky. It also boasts a strong injection of humour that I really appreciate. Rocky is even dumber in the sequel than he was in the original film (be that a result of being 'punchy' as the commercials director suspects or, as Rocky claims, it's because he has a ''a relaxed brain'') and gags like "condominiums? I never use them" and Rocky claiming he doesn't have a criminal record "to brag about" still gave me a good chuckle. The dialogue is, just like the previous film, often delivered in a very naturalistic manner too leading me to suspect some of it was off-the-cuff. Either way, the confidence Stallone and the cast had in the script is commendable.
In conclusion, the sequel doesn't top the original, but it develops its universe extremely well and that's an impressive trick that not every franchise nails. I may be rating it more in memory of how I felt about it as a kid than how I do now, but this is still a strong and enjoyable sequel. And let's face it, for better or worse, it does give us the ending we as an audience wanted from the first, right?
Fairytales can come true.
Knockout rating: 4 Punches out of 5.