I have to hand it to Sylvester Stallone he did the impossible with 'Rocky II' and made a successful follow-up to 'Rocky,' winner of the 1976 Best Picture Academy Award.
Some argue that 'Taxi Driver' (also nominated) deserved the Oscar more. I'm not so sure. 'Rocky' came along at just the right time it was an uplifting story and people needed that back then. Now, 'Taxi Driver' is usually considered the superior of the two but they're entirely different and, in my opinion (and it's a rare one), 'Rocky' is just as good but in a different way. They're both great films, and I'm not saying that 'Taxi Driver' shouldn't have won but I'm not necessarily saying it should have, either. 'Rocky's' achievement is monumental and it is one of the greatest films ever made. To say it's 'not as good' merely because it is more optimistic is nonsense.
So what's so great about 'Rocky II' and why is it generally underrated? (Its average user score right now on the Internet Movie Database -- with over 8,000 votes -- is a measly 6.2/10, compared to the original's 7.7)
Because it maintains the focus of the first film, and continues the story rather well. A story that didn't really need to be continued, per se, but nevertheless formed the foundation of one of the greatest film franchises of all time. That's right many people hate the 'Rocky' sequels, but apart from 'Part V,' they're all surprisingly entertaining and, more importantly, well made. I like them; they entertain me, and I think they all serve their purpose.
What's particularly interesting about 'Rocky II' is that apart from repeating the central theme of fighting Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky (Stallone) goes through a character arc here that many sequels totally ignore we see the after-effects of his fight, and him struggling to adapt to the 'New Life.'
Rocky is not a smart person. But he is one of cinema's deepest characters. Stallone (who wrote all the scripts and directed three of the sequels) succeeds at evolving Rocky's self-confidence. After winning a small fortune from his famous fight with Creed, he goes out on an impulsive shopping spree, buying a cool car, a new leather jacket (with a tiger the beast with the 'eye' that Rocky re-captures in 'Part III' printed on the back), and a new luxurious apartment for him and his wife Adrienne (Talia Shire).
The problem is that Rocky soon runs out of money. His happy-go-lucky personality crashes when he is faced with the prospect of losing it all. He promised Adrienne never to fight again, and keeps his word by trying to get a 'real' job at the meat-processing factory (the same one he trained at in the original film). However due to staff cut backs he is fired and soon realizes that he was born for one reason: To fight.
Meanwhile, Apollo is eager to take on 'The Italian Stallion' again to prove he isn't the coward that criticizers are implying he is. He entices Rocky back into the ring for a final match and to say that the outcome is satisfactory is an understatement.
Most people seem to forget that Stallone is almost solely responsible for the entire success of 'Rocky' as a whole. He came up with the idea, wrote a script, fought to get it made, fought to become the leading star, and literally fought to get in shape. All of this fighting paid off and it continued to pay off as he kept on cranking out all the sequels.
Indeed, the 'Rocky' legacy is often poked fun at because it is the typical endless Hollywood moneymaking franchise. But 'Rocky II' and 'III' (more so than the other two sequels) have guts, power, determination and focus they've got the so-called 'Eye of the Tiger' and I can't really say that I agree with anyone who says these movies are worthless. They aren't masterpieces but they certainly aren't trash, either. I give 'Rocky II' a hearty recommendation it's a truly solid sequel that surprises us right when we expect to be disappointed.