When movie theaters closed down in the spring, it made reviewing new movies kind of difficult. In order to keep writing about films, I started doing a series of Rewind Reviews, reviews of older films I hadn’t seen before. Even though theaters are reopening now, I had a lot of fun writing those reviews, so this series is going to be continuing this semester.
Since we have very little idea of what this semester is going to end up looking like, I wanted my first Rewind Review of the year to be a movie with a reputation of being incredibly motivational and encouraging. With that in mind, there was an obvious choice: “Rocky.”
Now, I must confess that I have seen “Rocky” before. I’ve probably seen all of the films in the “Rocky” franchise at one point or another. However, when it comes to the original film from 1976, it’s been at least a decade since I last saw it, and I remembered very little of it. Taking that into consideration, I decided to count it.
Before getting into the review though, I feel the need to mention that there will be some spoilers for the film. The movie is almost 50 years old, and it’s one of those movies that is massively ingrained in popular culture, so even if you haven’t seen the film you’ve likely already heard the spoilers. But just in case, you’ve been warned.
Going into this film, I expected a similar experience to the rest of the films of the series, namely the newer “Creed” films. It felt like one of those franchises that, while undoubtedly beloved, had just rehashed the same thing over and over again for half a dozen films to capitalize on the name. That’s not inherently a bad thing. I still expected to enjoy “Rocky” within that context, but I did temper my expectations a bit.
Even still, “Rocky” was not the film I expected it to be.
Unlike some of the other films in the series, “Rocky” manages to be about more than a boxing match. While there is certainly a lot of boxing within the film, the real focus of “Rocky” is the mindset and evolution of the titular character.
At the beginning of the film, Rocky Balboa is a man adrift. He’s floating through his life, going from one small boxing match to another, taking whatever odd jobs he can find. There’s no clear direction in his life, and he seems to have accepted that. He’s not looking for anything else. However, after his invitation to fight heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, everything begins to change. Rocky suddenly has something to work toward. The audience is along for the ride as he prepares himself, both physically and mentally, for this shot at creating a name for himself.
Though Rocky is working toward the fight with Apollo Creed, the real motivation for the character is his love for Adrian, his friend Paulie’s sister. Though Rocky’s tough exterior prevents him from showing his love for Adrian, it’s always present. The relationship between the two builds over the course of the film and, while some aspects maybe haven’t aged the best, such as Rocky’s seemingly forceful approach to starting the relationship, the core of the relationship still rings true. While Rocky is a very self-led man, he wouldn’t be able to get as far as he did without Adrian there.
As far as the actual events of the film go, I was surprised by the lack of excitement. There are times when “Rocky” is actually kind of boring, but oddly enough I don’t see that as a negative. I kind of think the boring parts of this movie are the best parts. The scenes in which it’s just Rocky talking to himself or with Adrian about what he’s doing or what he’s thinking are the moments that keep the movie together. They build the emotional core of the film, and without them, Rocky’s arc wouldn’t be nearly as engaging as it is.
You can’t talk about “Rocky” without talking about the ending though. Here’s where the spoilers come into play. It’s pretty well-known that Rocky loses the big fight at the end of the film. The win, by decision of the judges, is given to Apollo Creed. However, Rocky still feels successful as he managed to fight his way through a whopping 15 rounds with Creed, when many thought he would be lucky to last three.
On paper, I love this ending. I think it shows winning isn’t everything, that Rocky’s fight is the real victory. With that said, I thought the ending was kind of rushed and not as clear as it could have been.
The fight ends and there’s lots of yelling, a brief moment where it shows Creed being awarded the victory and then the film is abruptly over. I like what the ending is trying to do, but I can’t help but feel like it isn't given enough room to breathe and there should be a little more time to make the ending resonate with the audience.
Creed’s victory is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, and something as big as that should be clear to see for the audience. I can’t help but feel that because of how rushed it is in these last moments, “Rocky” doesn't stick the landing as well as it could have. I still liked it, but the execution of the conclusion is a bit of a letdown for me.
“Rocky” is a great character study of a man finding his way. It was the breakout role for Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay, and it’s easy to see why. By focusing on the character of Rocky rather than on the fights, the film becomes significantly more resonant and memorable. This is one of those movies that pretty much everyone has seen at some point or another, but if, like it had been for me, it’s been a while since you’ve watched it, I would certainly recommend a rewatch.