In 1976, Sylvester Stallone wrote and starred in a little indie movie about an underdog boxer named Rocky. Little did the world know that it was the start of an epic, 30-year cinematic journey. Or that the journey would be so retarded.
Breathe deep, Adrian. That's the smel of triumph.
Fights: Apollo Creed
To Avenge: The hopes and dreams of oppressed white men everywhere
While Rocking Out To: "Gonna Fly Now", the classic Rocky theme
What does Paulie think?: "I can't haul meat no more." Cries.
Rocky opens with a shot of Jesus Fucking Christ gazing benevolently down as Rocky beats the shit out of some guy in the ring. This is easily the subtlest metaphor in the entire series.
We're introduced to Rocky, the Italian Stallion (incidentally, this was also Stallone's porn name throughout the 70s). He's a down-on-his-luck boxer with the intellectual capacity of a Roomba. He's a part-time debt collector and full-time dreamer living in the magical city of, ahem, 1970s Philadelphia.
A mind bogglingly contrived set of plot events gives Rocky the shot at the title against smooth talking, wealthy, cocky black fighter Apollo Creed (incidentally, Apollo Creed was also Stallone's dick's porn name throughout the 70s). With the help of the adorably drunk and racist Paulie, the angry old Irish mick Mickey, the vaguely autistic love interest Adrian, and the undeniable power of montage, Rocky overcomes unbeatable odds and shocks the world by losing less quickly than people were expecting. Because, hey, at least he went the distance with Creed, right? He gave it his all and lost honorably, and isn't that what counts? (It isn't, and Stallone recognized this in the sequels).
The birth of a montage.
Incidentally, Rocky seemed awfully obsessed with "going the distance" with Creed. You could say he had an all-consuming obsession with going all the way with him. This'll be important in a few sequels.
The plot of the movie was based on a fight between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner, who was some douchebag boxer who managed to last almost the entire fight against Ali.
Admittedly, the Ali-Wepner fight is fascinating to watch, but what's creepy about the movie is how far Stallone goes to make Rocky the All-American Hero, while making Creed the flasy, undeserving prick, more interested in promoting himself than doing hard work. Stallone's contempt for Creed (and, by extension, Ali) is evident throughout the script, which contains notes like "Apollo's crowd smiles automatically at everything he says." At its essence, the movie is about Rocky's quest to humble the proud black fighter; to put him in his place, if you will.
The move won the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out far better films like Taxi Driver, Network, and All the President's Men, essentially making it the Crash of 1976.
Fights: Creed again
To Avenge: His split-decision loss in the first movie, illiteracy
While Rocking Out To: "Gonna Fly Now" again
What does Paulie think?: "Is my sister giving you a hard time? If she is, you break her teeth."
Rocky II pits Rocky against his greatest nemesis of the entire series: READING.
Rocky initially declines Creed's rematch challenge and instead tries to build a normal middle class life with Adrian for forty agonizing minutes of screen time. They get married, they buy a car, they buy a house, she gets fucking pregnant. They basically go through the standard heteronormative lifestyle checklist.
Rocky, realizing that his brand new leather jacket with a tiger on the back won't pay for itself, tries to make some money doing TV spots while wearing a hilarious caveman outfit; however the cue cards prove too formidable a foe because Rocky can't fucking read.
Rocky. Can't. Fucking. Read.
He ends up sucking pretty pathetically at every job he tries, from commercials, to office work, to meatpacking (though his firing from the meatpacking job is indirectly blamed on those evil, evil unions). Cheesy drama and inner turmoil ensues until Rocky realizes that the ring is where he truly belongs. Incidentally, this exact same conflict will play out in every single movie in the series from here on out (Stallone himself did some pretty bad TV spots too: 8 Humiliating Japanese Ads Starring Oscar Nominees).
Rocky accepts the rematch with Creed. We get another training montage, this time featuring Rocky triumphantly outsmarting a chicken and leading all of the children of Philadelphia to glorious freedom or something. The big fight is essentially a reenactment of the one from the first movie (albeit with shittier choreography and camera work), and ends with a bizarre double knockdown. They struggle to get to their feet in a moment that probably was intended to be really tense, but ends pretty much how you'd expect it to. Creed slumps back to the floor and Rocky stands triumphant because he has the Heart and Soul of America giving him strength (Not that there's anything wrong with that...in fact, here are 5 Reasons Cracked Loves America (A Message to the FBI) ).
Thus Rocky is redeemed and all that bullshit about losing honorably from the first movie is rightfully corrected.
Fights: Clubber Lang
To Avenge: Mickey
While Rocking Out To: "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor
What does Paulie think?: "He can't train to that jungle junk music!" Paulie isn't big on multiculturalism.
A fool and his money are soon pitied.
The third movie sees Rocky fight the cartoonishly evil Clubber Lang (played by renowned fool-pitier Mr. T), while teaching us a valuable lesson: the power of evil must always give way to the power of love. Sweaty, muscular, interracial love between two married men.
When the movie starts, Rocky's sold out and become a pussy. Lang (who is even blacker, and therefore, even more evil than Apollo) wants a shot at the title, but thinks that the white man is holding him down, because in Rocky movies the only people who dare criticize America are the villains. Lang challenges Rocky to a fight, propositions Adrian, murders Mickey with his bare hands in front of everyone, beats Rocky senseless in the ring, and generally tries way too hard to be a super mega evil villain. All seems lost until Apollo Creed inexplicably offers to help Rocky train for the rematch and regain his Eye of the Tiger.
They train at a gym that, the movie takes pains to point out, is filled with SCARY AND MUSCULAR BLACK MEN. Paulie makes a few colorful comments about these "colored" fighters but this takes a backseat to the budding romance that dare not speak its name. Let's let the sweatiest, most sensual training montage of the series speak for itself.
If seeing Rocky and Apollo's crotches moving in perfect slo-mo harmony with each other doesn't get your blood going, you must be made of stone.
After Rocky and Apollo finish frolicking in the ocean, we're taken to Madison Square Garden where Rocky and Lang meet for the rematch. The crowd fanatically chants Rocky's name, practically begging him to put Lang down. Rocky's a modern day Jim Jeffries.
Well, the crowd obviously gets their wish and Rocky emerges triumphant. The movie ends with Rocky and Apollo glistening with sweat and engaging in a secret "sparring match" in a darkened gym. Draw your own conclusions.
Oh and at some point during the movie Rocky fights Hulk Hogan for some reason.
Fights: Ivan Drago
To Avenge: Apollo Creed, Capitalism
While Rocking Out To: "Hearts on Fire" by John Cafferty
What does Paulie think?: "At least we don't keep our people behind a wall with machine guns!"
Rocky IV's nuanced worldview is best summed up by its opening image: a boxing glove with an American flag on it slams into a boxing glove with a Soviet flag and they explode. That's right; Rocky's going toe to toe with the evil empire and its ridiculously muscled combatant, Ivan Drago.
Though the movie's views on foreign policy are, to put it lightly, a bit Reaganesque, it's pretty pointless to read too much into the politics. The whole move is just a cut and paste of Rocky III; substitute Drago for Lang, Apollo for Mickey, and jingoism for homoerotica and boom, Rocky IV. We're pretty much just going through the motions here. The movie even includes extended clips from Rocky III to pad out its 90-minute running time.
Drago-played by Dolph Lundgren-is a steroid-taking, science-using, free-market-hating pinko bastard out to humiliate the land of the free. Apollo, looking to defend his country in its darkest hour, challenges Drago to an exhibition match. He is promptly killed in the ring, thus providing Rocky with some nice, shrink-wrapped Character Motivation. Drago escapes back to Sovietland and Rocky, heartbroken at the loss of his one true love, vows to avenge Apollo's death. Meanwhile, Paulie fucks his robot wife.
That wasn't a joke.
Rocky flies to Russia and montage-trains his ass like a mountain man in the frozen wilderness. Meanwhile, Drago counter-montages with steroids and computers. Like all the great American stories, brute strength is pitted against the tyrannical evils of science. (Cracked: 6 Awesome 80s Movie Montages (That Make No Damn Sense)).
Anyway, the time for the big fight arrives, blah blah blah you know how this ends. Rocky triumphs, everyone erupts in cheers of joy, and all is right with the world again. Even the fucking Soviet audience cheers for him! Historians generally agree that Rocky's determination single-handedly ended the Cold War and ushered forth a new era of peace and harmony forever. Historians are retarded.
Dolph Lundgren went on to receive a Best Actor Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize for his role as He-Man in Masters of the Universe.
Fights: Tommy Gunn
To Avenge: His pride, his bank account, possibly Mickey again
While Rocking Out To: "Go For It" by Joey B. Ellis and Tynetta Hare
What does Paulie Think?: "Kids, just tell Santa what you need." This is only slightly less creepy in context.
Most fans consider Rocky V to be the redheaded stepchild of the Rocky series. To see why, just take a look at the DVD covers for the Rocky movies and play a game of "Which of these things is not like the other?"
After the complete madness that was Rocky IV, Stallone wanted to do a grittier, more back-to-basics movie. Sort of like the Batman Begins of Rocky films. The result was Rocky V (Cracked: A Tale of Two Rockys).
Rocky's accountant fucks him out of all his money and doctors tell him that he's been punched retarded. He's got no choice but to retire, sell his house, leave the robot on the side of the road, and move his family back to the old shitty Philadelphia neighborhood from the first movie and try to start over.
Rocky decides to make his way as a trainer and mentors the improbably named Tommy Gunn (played by real-life boxer Tommy Morrison), a wide-eyed little punk from a flyover state who has dreams of making it big like a real live fighter by golly.
Party in the BACK!
Rocky and Tommy's relationship starts off well, and Tommy wins some big matches. Though, some of Rocky's advice makes it pretty clear that he still misses the touch of Apollo's sweaty moustache:
Rocky: Fear is like this fire, OK? Now let it burn until it becomes like this volcano. And when you see the opening, explode all over this guy.
Ultimately, Tommy becomes an asshole, ditches Rocky for more prestigious management, and tries to challenge him to a fight.
Wait a second. With Drago and Gunn, that makes two white villains in a row now. Is it possible that the Rocky series has diversified its antagonists? Or is there a more, ahem, traditional villain pulling the strings behind the scenes?
That's more like it.
Meet George Washington Duke, Tommy's unscrupulous new manager. Duke is a flashy, loudmouth parody of Don King, again showing Stallone's willingness to use his movies to characature anyone he doesn't like.
Interestingly, the final fight doesn't take place in the ring, but on the street. Rocky and Tommy brawl like soccer hooligans as the locals cheer them on. Rocky is about to lose when Mickey appears to him in a vision and declares his love for him. Rather than finding this moment deeply confusing, Rocky gains strength from it and kicks Tommy's ass. A solid uppercut to Duke's jaw completes the victory.
This was originally supposed to be the last Rocky movie, and the ending definitely has a sense of finality to it. The movie's craptacular performance at the box office complicated the matter, however. See, audiences in 1990 weren't particularly nuanced (top grossing movie that year: Home Alone), and they weren't interested in a back-to-basics Rocky. They wanted bigger, louder, and stupider; presumably they would have gone apeshit for a movie that pitted Rocky against fucking space robots or something.
Rocky V's poorly executed attempt to recapture some of the spirit of the first film ensured that it bombed, critically and commercially. Even Danny Tanner from Full House made a crack about how no one saw the movie.
Even I have standards.
Stallone even called the movie crap, and the world would have to wait sixteen years before the saga was truly put to rest.
Everlast gloves are a metaphor for my longevity.
Fights: Mason Dixon
To Avenge: Adrian, apparently
While Rocking Out To: "It's a Fight" by Three 6 Mafia
What does Paulie Think?: "Italian food cooked up by a bunch of Mexicans ain't so special Rocko."
2006 finally saw the release of Rocky Balboa, the last film in the franchise. Fans were expecting the series to close out with a bang; what they got sounded more like a weary thud.
Adrian's dead, Rocky Jr. is too good for his dad, and everyone else who's still alive is geriatric. Rocky runs an Italian restaurant and apparently spends his days wandering aimlessly while sad music plays in the background.
A lot of the movie's beginning has Rocky visiting old locations from the first movie, staring sadly at dilapidated buildings while flashbacks take us through Rocky and Adrian's relationship. It's genuinely depressing to watch, because you can't help but get the feeling that it's really Stallone himself who is trying to recapture some of the old magic. It's a reminder that we'll all become broken down old people some day, clicking wistfully through our old Cracked Topics pages, trying to figure out where our lives went wrong.
Rocky has come full circle. In fact, the movie's sole purpose seems to be to bring the whole series back around to the beginning so it can fuck the first movie in the ass. Lots of obscure references to the first film show up throughout. Marie, a minor character from the first movie, has a big part in Balboa. She develops a strong platonic bond with Rocky, who mentors her teenage (and, for some reason, black) son Steps.
Rocky decides he wants to fight again. Luckily his irreversible brain damage from the fifth movie has reversed itself, and he sets up an exhibition match with heavyweight champion Mason Dixon, who is essentially just Apollo Creed without the charisma.
During the press conference before the fight, we get an unexpected moment of candor when a reporter asks Dixon, "Isn't this sport in enough trouble without these circus events?" It really is an amazing moment. How often does a character stand up and call bullshit on the entire premise of the plot right there in the middle of the fucking movie?
Anyways, Rocky's the underdog, again, and he needs to train, again. Lets see if the old man has one last montage left in him.
He trains, he fights, he goes the distance, he loses by split decision (like in the first movie), he proves himself. A cute little visit to Adrian's gravesite later and the movie's over. That's Rocky Balboa; a cheesy, manipulative movie that, in spite of its ludicrous plot and problematic attitudes towards race, still manages to be pretty entertaining.
You know, that's actually not a bad description for the entire series.