Episode 69: Learning Roman Numerals with Rocky

You probably already have the Rocky theme running through your head on the very mention of the name so might as well just put this video of the whole damn soundtrack in the background while reading.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuWRhHca-AU

If there were ever a culprit as to why people want to run up a flight of stairs and then jumping in celebration it has to be the Rocky movies. I actually read up on a bit of the history behind the movie and was mesmerized. Sylvester Stallone is pretty iconic in his titular role but you don’t consider his acting to be amazing. The guy speaks weirdly and his face just doesn’t seem to move right. Well, apparently Sly was actually born with an odd condition which paralyzed part of his face and lead to his slurred speech. The guy was dirt poor for a long time before he got the idea to write a film about a struggling boxer that was suddenly given a chance to turn his life around with a shot at the title. That’s right, Sylvester Stallone actually wrote the screenplay for the original Rocky. He openly refused any offer that would not allow him to act in the film. He eventually accepted an offer that basically gave Sly almost no money but accpeted his demands and the rest, as they say, is history. It gets even weirder once you find that he directed a bunch of the other movies in the series.

Rocky the movies was amazing as a serial in that it successfully pulled what I like to call a “Bad News Bears” ending. In that movie, the titular kid’s baseball team that lost in the championship game. Rocky trains like Hell, changes his entire life, and goes against a champion that had underestimated him from the beginning. The result of the fight is secondary towards our hero, who just wants to be with the woman he loves after going blow for blow for 15 rounds, showing that the destination is secondary to the physical journey of the entire film. You need to force your ear just to clarify that Apollo had won the split decision but Rocky didn’t care about the victory or the rematch.However these would be the catalysts to have sequels over the next few decades becuase there was always another battle worth fighting.

Rocky II now had the interesting challenge of making another fight between the Apollo and the Italian Stallion but having to stretch it out for the two hours or so of the film. We get a lot more development of the relationship between Rocky and Adrianne so there is character growth but the key to a successful sports film is to show a progression of physical acumen alongside emotional growth. Apollo was taking his opponent like a serious contender and actually trained for a fight to end all fights in this one. Rocky had already trained like a Spartan before so you needed to show something more than just another similar training montage. Then came an interesting idea for his fight. You see, Rocky is a south paw, aka he fights left handed (honestly can’t remember if he or Sly are actually left handed but it’s a pretty valid tactic), but Micky the trainer develops a game plan that literally changes Rocky’s entire stance on fighting. He was now to fight the entire match right handed until he was given the signal to return to his natural style. The battle was just as bloody and brutal as the last one but the epic simultaneous punch in which Rocky narrowly avoided the double KO was magnificent and cemented him as a champion with little doubt in the minds of anyone.

You might eventually notice that the soundtrack you may be hearing does not include Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” which is basically synonymous with the Rocky franchise. Interestingly enough, the song doesn’t show up until Rocky III. Here, Mr. T shows up as Klubber Lang to dethrone Rocky of his high horse and makes him lose his championship, his trainer and father figure through somewhat inducing a heart attack on the geriatric Micky just before the match, and his fighting spirit. Such emotional destruction was necessary in order to prevent our protagonist from becoming another boring invincible hero that did not feel challenged. He had to reconstruct his identity by going back to pugilistic basics, thanks to his former rival turned coach Apollo. If there’s on thing I enjoyed about the series is that they never demonized the Apollo and just made him a cocky bastard but ultimately one that redeemed himself in the spirit of competition. You get nothing of that in Mr. T and just see him as a current Mark Henry run at WWE where the only satisfaction comes from inducing pain. Rocky was clearly meant to win but I just never liked the way it happened. He basically out punched Lang in a few rounds, rather than out smart through superior style and footwork, like all his training montages showed him doing. Neither of the matches were struggles of grit and determination like in the first two movies but rather straight up beat downs.

Rocky IV has come up before in the blog as the movie that basically saved America from the Cold War and the greatest fourth installment ever. Killing Apollo in the first few minutes was a shock and boy did everyone freak out. Rocky now had to come out of retirement to avenge his friend and rival, killed by the almost inhuman Ivan Drago in a friendly match at a fundraiser. Where Klubber was brash and cocky, Drago was cold and methodical, almost like a robot following orders. Rocky not only had to get back in shape but do it in very literal enemy territory as the match and training took place in Moscow while his son was still in the States. The greatest training montage perhaps in recorded history takes place in this movie and I recommend it to everyone. The final match was another war that does not disappoint. The cool thing was that Drago became a bit more human as he became angrier and eventually chokeslammed one of his handlers before ultimately getting knocked out. Rocky then does a pretty good speech about the importance of competition without actual war and how he actually respects and appreciates Russia for having the match and letting him come here.

Rocky V is a film that is best left forgotten by the fandom and is usually left out of the conversation of the series. Basically, Rocky has serious neural issues immediately after fighting Drago. They return home only to find that his accountant had pretty much stolen all his money. Rocky and his family are now destitute and he can’t even fight to change that. Rocky then becomes a trainer for an up and coming boxer who is ultimately very forgetful ( I think it’s Tommy the Machine Gunn or something stupid like that). Anyway, the crux of the dramatic tension lies in that Rocky is ignoring his family to train Tommy and alienating his now adolescent son in the process. Near the end, Tommy signs with a Don King ripoff and leaves Roky high and dry because it turns out that he was greedy and unappreciative. Then they get into an argument and Rocky beats him up on the street. No seriously, that’s the movie.

Several years later we get Balboa the unofficial Rocky VI  where the now AARP Rocky is grasping at straws for the world he once knew as his son  is now a businessman and his wife has died a while ago, probably cancer. He owns a small restaurant and things are kinda ok but he decides that he wants to do something more with his life. He starts training again and even gets his certified by the local boxing commission to fight again. In the meantime, we have Mason Dixon (basically an expy of Floyd Mayweather) the current champion that wants to prove that he has a place among the legends like the Italian Stallion and takes his return to the ring as stealing his spotlight. Out of nowhere, Dixon decides to have a match against Rocky, who is like 60, and he accepts. What follows is pretty much the same thing as the first movie, even with pretty much the same ending. They shot an alternate ending that shows up in the DVD extras where Rocky won but I don’t think that finale would have been true to the spirit of the series. Rocky defined success through personal achievement rather than public glory and accolades. The moment he decides to basque in his own success his world and dreams crash down. This is a man that gets to the mountaintop in every film but has to climb to an even higher peak on every installment. Subtracting the fifth one, Rocky shows us how the idea of another movien in the franchise might seem farfetched but it’s execution keeps us comning back for more. With that said, please don’t make another one. Sly can easily beat me and a bunch of other people to a bloody pulp but Rocky just needs to enjoy his golden years.

 

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