Rocky II, by Albert W. Vogt III

Honestly, I had never seen any of the films in the Rocky franchise.  As I indicated in my review of the original, Rocky (1976), there are many aspects of them that are familiar.  What has been a treat so far in watching the first two is the connection to the South Philadelphia Italian neighborhood that raised and nurtured Robert “Rocky” Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).  Of even greater delight for this Catholic reviewer has been seeing the Faith of people in that neighborhood, including Rocky.  This is an even larger factor in Rocky II (1979), and I will, unsurprisingly, be going deeper into that part later in the review.  As for the rest of the movie, what can I say?  It is a sequel.

I am not sure if this is laziness, or smart film making, but the first ten minutes or so of Rocky II are the same as the last ten of the previous film.  In other words, Rocky is defeated on a split decision by the world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).  As they head to the hospital after the pummeling they each took in the ring, Apollo walks back his previous statement that there would be no rematch.  He has had this sudden change in feeling because, like everyone else in the moment, they did not feel he really beat Rocky.  The Italian Stallion is less concerned at the moment in getting another shot at the title.  His girlfriend Adriana “Adrian” Pennino (Talia Shire) does not want to see Rocky fight anymore.  This is made all the more important when shortly after he gets out of the hospital, he proposes to her.  As any traditional Italian would do, he does his best to provide for her.  He is also not the most judicious with how he spends the prize money from the bout.  He buys a nice car, fancy clothes for him and his wife, and they move into a new home.  She is somewhat anxious about the spending, noticing the price tag attached to everything.  He only wants what he sees as the best for her.  When she raises her concerns, he says that it will be okay because he has accepted offers to do commercials, trading on his status as a folk hero for going toe-to-toe with Creed.  The problem is that his thick accent, deadpan delivery of the lines, and his constant questioning of everything else brings on exasperation for the director and Rocky is forced to find other employment.  As Rocky begins his next job search, Creed is fuming about the last match.  He reads the letters sent by observers who suggest that the fix was in against Rocky.  This fuels his desire to do whatever it takes to goad the Italian Stallion into a rematch.  For the moment, though, Rocky is intent on finding an office job.  What defeats this ambition is his lack of education and having somewhat of a criminal record.  He does find employment for a short amount of time in the same meatpacking plant in which he trained for his fight with Creed.  Unfortunately, in the midst of an economic downturn, his boss is forced to cut his job owing to Rocky’s lack of seniority.  It is at this point that he first entertains a return to boxing, but Adrian is against it.  Instead, she offers to go back to work at the pet shop where they met despite being pregnant.  Still, the itch to be around the sport does not leave him, leading him back to his old manager Michael “Mickey” Goldmill’s (Burgess Meredith) gym.  His intent is just to help out in order to make a few bucks, emptying spit buckets and picking up towels.  It is shortly into his tenure in this new position that he learns of Creed’s mocking him through the press.  Creed goes on national news and makes fun of Rocky.  The person who is most enraged about this is Mickey.  He goes to Rocky’s house and demands that they start training right away for the rematch.  Adrian is worried because another blow in the wrong part of the head could blind Rocky.  Hence, against her wishes, he begins to get into shape while she continues to labor at the pet shop.  The tense situation at home weighs on Rocky, affecting his preparations.  Adrian is upset, too, and it prompts a visit from her brother, Paulie Pennino (Burt Young), asking why his sister is giving her husband a hard time.  The stress of the conversation sends her into real labor, which is a month premature.  The baby is delivered safely, but she slips into a coma.  Rocky never leaves her side, except during non-visiting hours when he goes into the facility’s chapel to pray.  Upon coming to, Rocky says he is thinking about bowing out of the fight with Creed.  Adrian only has one request: win.  This is the motivation that Rocky needs, and he throws himself whole-heartedly into his training.  Cue the montage, and requisite run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art!  Rocky is met in the ring by an angry and determined Creed, wanting to knock out the Italian Stallion in the first few rounds.  As before, the bout goes the distance, and each give the other a severe beating.  Also similar to the last one, it is Rocky that appears to bear the brunt of the blows.  It comes down to the last punch in the last round, one delivered by Rocky.  It manages to bring down Creed, but Rocky falls with him.  The first one to get up before the count gets to ten wins the title, and of course it is Rocky.  The end.

In Rocky II, the title character becomes the champion with the full support of that aforementioned South Philadelphia Italian neighborhood.  There are aspects of this culture that are not the greatest.  This is symbolized in the way Paulie treats Adrian, although it is worst in the previous film.  What is great for this reviewer is the way Catholicism is a part of the fabric of the neighborhood.  If you want a full treatise on the sort of thing, read The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950 by Robert Orsi.  One of the things to remember about the Church in this country is that it was built by immigrants that looked, moved, and talked like Rocky.  Indeed, this is an intentional theme by Stallone, who wrote and directed this installment.  At the same time, Rocky is like any other American Catholic.  The majority of them are not daily communicants, miss praying the Rosary every day, and probably commit the kinds of sins you see him do in the movie.  For example, somebody suggests that he invest his prize money in condominiums, to which he replies that he never uses them.  This speaks to how Catholics of that era were keen on not using contraception (and it is still against Church teaching), but also implies that he is having premarital sex.  And yet, the Faith is all around him, from the Crucifix he wears around his neck, to the hospital in which his baby is born, and the fact that he gets a blessing from his parish priest before his fight.  Being Catholic does not take anything special.  God provides the special.  It is good to make it a larger commitment in your life than do the majority of people like Rocky.  Still, I like to think that the film indicates that he has at least the beginnings of a relationship with God, and that is important, too.

As I indicated in the introduction, Rocky II is pretty standard sequel fare.  It gets me excited to see the Catholic aspects of it.  If this is something that interests you, then by all means check it out.  Through the first two movies, they seem less about boxing and more about a person trying to make a living.  There is value in such stories.


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