Rocky Anthology

Rocky Anthology
If you think about it, Sylvester Stallone's Rocky series gave viewing audiences so many things to embrace: an inspiring rags to riches story, an unforgettable and uplifting soundtrack, an unreal yet energising take on the world of boxing, and let's not forget the memorable lines that encouraged millions of impersonations ("Adrian!!!"). Created by Stallone, the character of Rocky Balboa is a relentless punching bag of an American hero who nearly went the distance in five films, only faltering miserably in the finale. The Oscar-winning Rocky (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing) was an instant classic that was remarkably written in three days and shot in four weeks. Telling the tale of the true underdog, the film follows an amateur Philly club fighter who earns a shot at the big time against the champ, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Of course, Rocky loses (a nice way to crush the Hollywood ending) but his loss is our gain when the film eventually spawns four sequels. As the story goes, none of the following films quite match the original's glory, but most are worthy contenders. Rocky II (the first of three in which Stallone both wrote and directed) is a predictable follow-up that manages to stand on its own two feet, even though it succumbs to the typical sequel quandaries. The overwhelming drama of it all (Adrian's pregnant coma, his injuries and inability to find work, the massive comeback) gets a little carried away, but that's what this boxer's story is all about. Luckily Rocky III surpasses its predecessor, and even packs enough punch to give the original a good 15 rounds if it wanted. Certainly the most thrilling one of the bunch, III presents Rocky, the world heavyweight champ who leads the life of luxury (he owns a robot!), as a true celebrity. However, when he meets the fire-breathing challenger Clubber Lang (Mr. T in his finest role ever), Rocky loses his belt in a severe beat down, as well as his fiery little coach Mickey (the magnificent Burgess Meredith), who dies of a heart attack. Never one for thinking straight, he mounts the ultimate comeback with the help of his former nemesis Apollo Creed. Most exciting of all though is the cameo by Hulk Hogan as "Thunderlips," who gives Rocky an intimate lesson in how professional wrestling isn't just about men in tights groping each other. Rocky IV is where Stallone begins to lose the plot with his screenwriting. As wildly entertaining as it is, he uses a Cold War undertone that may have been the populist way of attracting American crowds back then, but today it comes across as a desperately daft idea. After losing his friend to the hands of the evil Communist boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), Rocky wages a war in a battle between America and the USSR. The fight scenes prove to be the some of the most absurd ever filmed, yet as easy as it is to write this off as another mindless Stallone action flick, there's something stimulating about seeing these two square off and trade punches. It's easy to say Rocky V should never have happened, simply because it is an awful, awful film. The best it offers is the closure that obviously wasn't felt at the end of the fourth. This film robs Rocky of his glory, stripping him of his success and money, sending him back to where he started: the mean streets of Philadelphia. There is no title bout or comeback, just a lame street fight with a young, mouthy hotshot (then professional boxer Tommy Morrison), some pesky brain damage, a blasphemous attempt to bring back Mickey as a ghost and the abhorrent casting of Stallone's real-life son Sage (which easily matches the disastrous nepotism of casting Sofia Coppola in Godfather III). While this collection comes in an attractive box, unfortunately there are no real extras to the DVDs, other than the lame features on high definition transfers and the "best-ever audio." Looks like Rocky really was broke in the end. (MGM)