After the surprising success of Rocky, there had to be a second – if only for business reasons. Beyond the financials, one could argue that there was a decent reason for Rocky II to be made. Rocky and Apollo Creed left their first match in much doubt. It would be easy to believe that Creed would want a rematch and that Rocky would welcome the challenge.
Rocky II finds Rocky Balboa in different circumstances than the original. He came close to beating the champ. That alone has earned him some money. The prospects of cashing in on that success in terms of commercials, endorsements, etc. look promising. Rocky goes from a down and out boxer to skies the limit after one bout. This makes for an an interesting look at the development of our favorite underdog boxer. He’s not rich but it seems he might soon be. He’s not a champ but the odds seem to be swinging in his favor. He has the woman he loves and marries her. He has no shortage of people offering him a chance to invest or be invested in. Yet Rocky struggles to make sense of it all.
The first signs of trouble are the way the Italian Stallion goes on a spending spree, purchasing all sorts of high priced items he previously could only dream of. Not a problem. Rocky will fund all this through commercials. One problem. He’s been hit in the head a few too many times and is barely able to read a few simple lines. Before long we see Rocky stressing financially. To add to the pressure, he discovers Adrian is pregnant. Oh, and he’s retired from boxing. The doctor says he risks losing sight in one of his eyes if he continues fighting. That is all Adrian needs to hear. She’s staunchly against Rocky fighting again. The risks are too high. She believes this so much so that she goes back to work at the pet store part time to help pay the bills. Rocky eventually finds himself work at Mick’s gym. He goes from challenging the champ to changing spit buckets in no time at all.
Apollo Creed is as bombastic as ever. He wants another fight with Balboa. There is too much talk of Creed not winning the last fight. An ego like Creed’s cannot withstand this kind of assault. Creed puts out a media campaign calling Rocky a chicken. He does everything he can to embarrass Rocky back into the ring. After further thought and further provoking, Rocky takes the challenge, though it’s against Adrian’s wishes.
Rocky begins training with Mick, who agrees to train Rocky only after the taunts by Creed became too much for even Mick to ignore. Previously, Mick was in agreement with the doctor, it was too risky for Rocky to keep fighting. We’re all set for a montage of training set to the inspirational music but instead something else happens. Rocky is distracted. He seems unmotivated. Adrian’s lack of support is weighing heavily on him. Never fear, Paulie is here! Ah yes, our favorite creep/funny man Paulie. He figures out that it’s his sister causing trouble. He’ll set her straight.
After Paulie shouts Adrian down, she goes into early labor. Rocky is a proud father of a baby boy but discovers that Adrian is in a coma. He is crushed. Training is set aside and instead he stays by his wife’s side. It’s during this time that we’re reminded that Rocky is often as much about the love between this unlikely couple as it is about Rocky the boxer.
The coma is an added plot device. The original lacked this type of device which is used to increase the drama. While not unbelievable, this twist is a sign of things to come in the films that follow and it’s not a good sign. But I’ll save that for reviews of the next few movies in the series.
Adrian awakes from her coma. She seems to have had time to think about Rocky returning to fighting because some of her first thoughts are to tell Rocky to go win the fight. Say no more. Rocky is back on track. Triumphant training montage kicks in for real this time. It is eerily similar to the original montage except things are ratcheted up a notch. The final scene of Rocky running up the stairs is there and this time half of Philly’s kids follow and cheer in triumph at the top. Again, a sign of things to come in future instalments.
The big battle in the ring is not unlike the first. Rocky may be the worst fighter to ever enter the ring. If he blocks a punch to the head it will be his first. Regardless, we cheer for our hero to take the punches and punch back even harder. In the end we get what we hoped for in the first. But one can’t help but wonder what another round of success, even bigger this time around, will do to the newly crowned champ. He didn’t exactly excel with the last opportunity, which is maybe why Rocky II sets up its sequel even better than the original did for it.