Following his survival through a whole match against legendary champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is struggling to ride the wave of success. With promises of huge sums of money from advertising contracts, he splashes out on his new wife Adrian. But when he turns out to be a less-than competent media performer the money dries up. Meanwhile the champ wants a rematch, and will stop at nothing for Balboa’s blood…
Stallone’s wise decision to end Rocky without an outright victory pays dividends here as Balboa maintains the underdog status that made the first film so appealing. Rocky’s climatic ending is brought back down to earth as Balboa struggles to make ends meet. He’s such a well-crafted character, with a simple innocence, that we never for a second struggle to believe that his best intentions could result in him throwing away all the opportunities he won in the first film. Even as he is forced to lug raw meat around for a living, Rocky doesn’t complain, and it’s this desire to do what’s right that makes him so appealing.
Like the first film, this is engaging because of how well written and acted he is. His decision to step back into the ring is presented as a genuinely difficult choice, and even though it’s an inevitable part of the film we’re still left wondering how it’s going to come about.
I think this is perhaps the greatest strength of the Rocky films in general. Easily guessed conclusions are made to be as nail-biting and gripping as if we had no idea what was going to happen. Nowhere is this clearer than in Rocky’s final fight with Apollo in Rocky II. It makes the final fight of the first film look like the two were sat around having afternoon tea, as both these hulking men bludgeon each other into submission. The gruelling battle is worth the build up, and, for want of a better phrase, really packs a punch.
Like its predecessor Rocky and Adrian’s (Talia Shire) relationship wisely kept at its core. They are as cute-a couple as ever, and there’s enough development in their relationship to keep things interesting. Most of what’s good about this film is what it keeps the same as Rocky, and where the franchise loses quality is where it messes with this formula. Stallone is in comfortable territory here. He takes on directing duties , making a far more efficient job of monopolising on success than Balboa. All-in-all it’s clear why Rocky is his favourite character, even to this day, and why he keeps coming back for another round.