Director: John G. Avildsen
Being born in the 80s I grew up on franchises from all genres. Sure they had existed for decades prior but in the 80s they just sprang up like Cockroaches, the same way remakes do today. One of my favorite franchises as a child was the Rocky franchise. Now looking back as an adult my enjoyment of most of these movies is done from a purely tongue in cheek “look how corny this is” kind of mentality, but when it comes to the original, this movie still manages to tug at the old heartstrings. Sylvester Stallone as the story goes got the inspiration for this movie after watching a 15 Round prize fight between the white Chuck Wepner, a journeyman challenger, and then heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Nobody gave Wepner a chance, but he managed to make it the distance with Ali. And so now we have the story of journeyman boxer Rocky Balboa, for whom boxing is kind of a side gig that he does to retain some of his humanity, while during his day job he works as a “two bit leg breaker” for a local mobster.
The atmosphere of this movie is really perfect. The tone of mid 70s Philadelphia provides the perfect setting for this punchy story of redemption. I always get the warm fuzzies when it comes to the scene of the outdoor quartet singing around the flaming trash barrel. This movie is filled with stand-out performances. Stallone gives the best performance of his career as the quirky, innately lonely, but determined Balboa. This is a character who breaks thumbs for a living in the day, but then takes the time to mentor a local teenage girl at night about hanging around with the wrong people.
First there’s the aging training “Mick” played by Burgess Meredith, who comes across as a gruff, bitter old man, but is also allowed some touching moments of vulnerability. Burt Young plays another sad, lonely character. He works at the local meat packing plant that Rocky uses in the famous scene where he “punches the meat”… Burt Young is a great character actor and over the course of the movie you both come to hate his ignorance and become enamored with him at the same time. Talia Shire plays Adrian, Rocky’s love interest as the sweetest, shyest lady you ever met. She’s not a smoking bombshell here, but she is completely vulnerable and exactly the kind of person you could see taming the rough around the edges pugilist character of Balboa. Finally Carl Weathers is a charismatic blast as Apollo Creed, the heavyweight champ of the world who picks Balboa’s name out of a book for an exhibition match because he likes its pizzazz. There are spots in the movie where its limited budget shows, such as during the fight where you can clearly see the empty arena at times, but that’s just a minor flaw, an otherwise very enjoyable and well made movie.
The best scenes in the movie are not the triumphant fight scenes (which are some of the least realistic boxing scenes ever filmed) but the quiet moments such as when we are allowed to go on a date with Rocky and Adrian, listening to them talk about their lives and how they got to be where they are now.