Rocky: The Complete Saga

Rocky: The Complete Saga
In the beginning, there was Rocky, the 1976 surprise hit that won a bunch of Oscars and made Sylvester Stallone a star. Though it was never all that, it’s not a bad little movie, with genuinely sympathetic palooka loser Rocky Balboa fighting off misery and self-doubt in the face of his job as a mob enforcer and a going nowhere dream of boxing. The hook — that arrogant champion Apollo Creed (a wonderful Carl Weathers) would challenge him in a show fight the underdog isn’t supposed to stand a chance in — is lame, but a few sentimentalities here and there don’t detract from the real sense of failure into which the film sincerely taps. One gets the sense that it’s Stallone’s story, and one feels the same way about the terrible sequels. Rocky II finds our man befuddled by fame and largely unsure of what to do — the fight with Apollo is rehashed to repetitive effect. It’s as sincere as the original but less credible and less well directed. But at least it was an honourable failure, which can’t be said for Rocky III. Here, Stallone is comfortable with the hero mantle and his loss to obnoxious challenger Clubber Lang (Mr. T, the only thing here worth watching) gives him an excellent opportunity to show how he hasn’t forgot how to fight his way back up. It seems to have been contrived as an experiment to see how little effort it takes to make a lot of money. Most hilarious of the bunch is Rocky IV, the notorious red baiter in which Rocky avenges Apollo’s death at the hands of evil Soviet boxer Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Its politics (and argumentative skills) leave something to be desired but for sheer idiotic balls nothing can top the final fight in which Rocky wins over the Russian crowd, and Mikhail Gorbachev. After that, Rocky V could only be a letdown: Stallone’s conservative zeitgeist had left him momentarily and the feeble story about losing his money and training an ingrate contender (only to lose him to a Don King caricature) is treading water and largely ridiculous. Sixteen years pass, Stallone becomes a has-been punch line and suddenly his humility and pathos return in Rocky Balboa. The sight of the one-time champion running a restaurant and rehashing past glories has a devastating self-awareness; it’s about Stallone the man again as opposed to the celebrity myth, making the comeback fight story entirely besides the point. The only extras are on this last film, including some featurettes, a Stallone commentary, and deleted scenes, most notably a triumphant alternate ending that was wisely excised. (MGM)