Film Review: Rocky II – 9/10

‘If you wanna stay here, I’ll stay with ya. I stay with ya. I’ll stay and pray…’

The great thing about cinema is that the films don’t change but the audience does. Rocky II has always been my favourite film in the franchise since my babysitter introduced me to the franchise as a kid. Well, this time around, I still adored the second entry in the franchise but the time has come to admit that it’s not quite as good as its predecessor. The fight sequence, whilst laughably melodramatic and over-the-top, is superior, but the rest of the film doesn’t quite scale the heights of the first movie…

After it becomes clear that there is no future for Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in advertising, the Italian Stallion agrees to fight Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) again, despite the misgivings of his wife Adrian (Talia Shire). Elsewhere, Burt Young returns as a slimmed-down and much suaver-looking Paulie and Burgess Meredith delivers his finest performance of the franchise as Rocky’s belligerent trainer Mickey.

Watching this film again for the first time since July 2018, I was surprised at how little I could remember about the first half of the movie. It takes an age for Rocky to agree to the fight and he really does hit rock bottom in the interim. The film kicks into gear with the birth of Rocky’s son and Adrian’s subsequent health issues. The bit where Mickey turns up at the chapel always gets me and from that moment on, the last 45 minutes are up there with anything in the original.

And then the fight sequence. Oh, the fight sequence. It’s sublime. It’s ridiculous. It’s operatic. It doesn’t matter that it bears only the slightest resemblance to reality, if that’s what you’re looking for, go watch an actual boxing match. No, this is boxing as cinema. And it’s still as powerful and emotive as it was when I was a kid. The moment in which Rocky slumps to his knees at the end of the final round is one of my favourite cinematic snapshots ever and while John G. Avilsden’s assured direction is missed, Stallone does a great job behind the camera during the closing sequences.

In 2024, at 36 years old, I’ve come to realise that Rocky II isn’t quite as good as the film that kicked everything off, but it does deserve to be mentioned in the list of great sequels alongside Aliens, Terminator 2 and The Empire Strikes Back.