10/10 Mike Springers
Doesn’t get any more inspiring, iconic and straight up American than this, folks.
Rocky is about a small-time boxer from Philly who has the potential to be a contender but spends most of his days slumming around town as a hired muscle for a bookie instead of getting his life together like the bum he is. Then, as luck/fate would have it, the heavyweight champion of the world challenges this hometown hero to throw down at the biggest boxing match of the Century. Not one to bypass a golden opportunity, our guy laces up his Chuck Taylors, punches the daylights out of cow carcasses like they’ve been mouthing off about his mother, seals the deal with the girl he’s been chasing after for God knows how long, and gets ready to crap thunder over all those jerks who wrote him off as just another bum from the neighborhood.
Over the years, I’ve become pretty jaded about the whole Rocky series and I don’t think I’m the only one in that boat. I dug throwing Mr. T into the mix, I dug Rocky single-handedly defeating Communism, and Rocky Balboa was actually way better than it should have been, but I think Rocky V and all that Tommy Gunn crap was the straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of us. All the same, I’ve got a friend who worships this series to the point where he might as well change his name to Thunderlips already, so after asking me to review this enough times to the point where I literally threw him into the Sun, I obliged and immediately remembered why it’s still the classic it’s always been.
Can hardly blame the fat cats at Hollywood for turning this into a total cash cow of a franchise. Nonetheless, fuck those guys.
So why a 10 for Rocky? Well, it’s a lot of things, but if I were to boil this down to one rock solid element, it would probably go back to America. I don’t know if this is common knowledge outside the US of A, but there are a few certain things that every last Yank loves more than life itself, things we would willingly give our lives for without thinking twice.
Hot dogs. Replacing words with “Freedom”. A cold beer in a hot shower. Maury Povich.
Pretty sure all those things are protected somewhere on the Constitution, but when push comes to shove, us Americans would gladly tar and feather all that noise for the one thing we hold dear above all else: the underdog. God, we love that shit. Go into any American sports bar, yell, “HEY! How about that 1980 US Olympic hockey team?!” and everyone will buy you a beer with tears of prideful joy flooding down their faces. Works every time. Rooting for the underdog isn’t a pastime reserved for the USA, but that notion of defying the odds and coming out on top despite every chip being stacked in the other side’s favor is what achieving The American Dream in The Land of Opportunity is all about.
And that’s Rocky: the seminal, blue-collar, one-in-a-million underdog.
He’s not the one riding into the ring in a parade float, dressed up in an Uncle Sam costume with more money than he knows what to do with, he’s the “bum” who’s chugging raw eggs for breakfast and helping his friend out by promoting a meat factory on the back of his robe. Rocky’s the everyman, he’s likable as all hell and you root for him because that drive for greatness is something we’ve all got in us. And I gotta say, Stallone was an awesome choice to play him.
It’s no mystery that Sly’s not the most dramatic star on the lot, but he has his moments and it really helps when he’s playing down the tough guy shtick. Part of it goes back to his surprisingly well-written, genuine script where people call each other “tomato” and “coconut” like it’s second nature, but the thing Stallone does well is that he doesn’t ham it up, it just feels like he’s being himself. When he gets emotional, he doesn’t go over the top (pun intended), and when he’s shooting the shit, it’s like he’s just saying whatever’s coming to mind. And it works, he ends up being a phenomenal, relatable character from beginning to end. It’s still pretty upsetting that Sly’s more jacked now at 64 than he was 34, but whatever, I bow down to any actor who can do one-armed push-ups and clap between reps.
And Burgess Meredith is freakin’ unreal as Rocky’s trainer, Mickey. There’s a serious lack of screen-time given to the guy, but whether he’s screaming at Rocky’s teen fans to get out of his gym or just telling Rocky what’s what every minute of every day, the man’s a beast and he is hilarious. Burt Young is great as Paulie – the grimiest, most cynical, most bummerific best friend Rocky could have ever picked out – and Talia Shire is out of sight as Rocky’s main squeeze, Adrian. It is no fluke whatsoever that all four of these guys got nominated for Oscars, they’re really that good and their characters are immortal.
But talk about your all-time iconic scenes. Rocky tearing up the Rocky Steps to the perfect inspirational theme song, the egg smoothie, Rocky training in the meat freezer, Rocky and Adrian ice skating (a personal favorite), the big fight, and “ADRIAAAAAN!” in that outrageous accent are just a handful amongst a slew of classics. Jesus, the whole damn thing is one big monument to all that is epic in movies. It’s no wonder that this movie is the pride and joy of Philadelphia
Man, if I was 24 when this had come out in theaters, I would have paid to see this ten, 20, 50, 637 times until I was dead broke, panhandling outside the theater weighing the pros and cons of spending my loose change on viewing number 638 or just gettin’ silly on some hard liquor and re-enacting the whole thing in a back-alley with the voices in my head. I was laughing, I was cheering, I was welling up – you name an emotion, that was me, baby. The long and short of it is that Rocky is just great and it was no small feat to nab Best Picture from the likes of Network, Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men. The sequels have definitely done more harm than good to this movie’s memory over the years, but whatever, this is flat-out timeless and I can’t help but wonder why we can’t get movies like this put out anymore.
Point is: long live the ’70s. Long live the original Rocky.