For several months, Prime Video has made available to its subscribers a mythical saga of cinema, which has stretched over several decades. It will leave the platform on July 8 and we strongly invite you to rediscover it until then!
Attention, the article below reveals potential spoilers on the Rocky saga. If you don’t want to know the content, please don’t read the following…
The cinema screen lights up. We hear Rocky’s name chanted in the distance, the character’s musical theme begins… We are on Wednesday, January 24, 2007, the session of Rocky Balboa has just started, and the chills are already coming. It’s not cold in the room, it’s even a little too hot.
It must be said that the announcement of this return of Rocky sixteen years after an unloved fifth opus is cause for concern. Sylvester Stallone is over sixty years old, how can he be credible in the role of a boxer capable of competing with a sportsman in the prime of life?
And yet, the chills are there. Because rocky, it’s not just a character or a film, it’s a saga, an important saga in the history of cinema, a saga that makes you cry as much as it shakes, it’s the story of Sylvester Stallone, and it’s also a bit ours. This January 24, 2007, many spectators took a lesson in life in addition to a lesson in cinema. But where does our viceral attachment to Rocky come from?
Rocky, he’s a human being
Rocky Balboa is a penniless everyman whose life boils down to his two turtles and his dog Butkus. In his early days, to support himself, he served as a henchman for a petty crook and boxed in seedy gyms. His only ray of sunshine is called Adrianne (Adrian in VO, played by Talia Shire), the sister of his friend Paulie (Burt Young), a somewhat uptight young woman who works at the nearest pet store.
But one day, the current world heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who finds himself without an opponent for his fight in Philadelphia, asks that we find him a “cheesy” ready to try the adventure to try to become the new world champion. Coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith) contacts Rocky to encourage him to try his luck. The saga begins.
She would not have lasted 6 feature films (and a little more if we add the character’s appearances in a spin-off franchise, Creed) if it was just the journey of a boxer winning an award and trying to keep it from movie to movie.
According to the famous maxim: “If I’ve changed, and you’ve changed, then anyone can change”, Rocky’s character will evolve with finesse, while his relationship with others will improve over time. His love story with Adrianne is one of the most touching in cinema. Rocky isn’t just a badass boxer, he’s mostly a shy little guy from Philadelphia, too nice, clumsy and a little too naive.
His humanity also comes from the personal trials he goes through. Over the course of the feature films, he suffers many bereavements that upset him a little more each time, for different reasons. He loses his friend Apollo Creed, assassinated in the ring by the Soviet giant Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and then develops a blind desire for revenge (R4*).
He is also violently affected by the death of his trainer Mickey and blames himself for his death (R3), then he is heartbroken by the loss of his beloved Adrianne (R6) and that of his brother-in-law Paulie (C1). This is why we find in R6 and the two Creed films a man broken and tired of life.
That being said, we must recognize that Rocky remains a boxing saga, and what a boxing saga!
Rocky, he’s a good boxer (although)
Boxing movies have been around since the early days of cinema. One of the best known of this era is the comedy Charlot and Fatty in the ringreleased in 1914. But at the time of filming Rocky we are in 1976, and the recent boxing film reference is Fat City (1972), directed by John Huston (himself a former boxer), and which pleased Mohamed Ali in person.
For Rocky, the director John G. Avildsen wants to be even more realistic and asks Stallone, author of the scenario, to describe each movement of the final fight so that the choreography is perfect. Moreover, the former boxer Jimmy Gambina participates in the training of the two main actors.
However, we must admit the truth in the face, despite all its good intentions from the start, the Rocky saga is in no way faithful to a real boxing match. The gloves used in the first film are illegal, having the arcade opened would not happen and the fight would be stopped, as for Rocky’s recurring charges on his opponents, more worthy of wrestling, they have nothing to do with do in a boxing ring. But then, why does it work?
Because Stallone understood that the realism of a boxing match is not cinematic. He therefore opted for a very nervous montage, fights lasting around twenty minutes (except for the R5very quickly dispatched), bloody open wounds, boxers who go to the end of their strength and more or less observant referees.
This hardline and unrealistic side is also felt in the personality of Rocky who rarely defends himself and takes it one after the other, betting on his extraordinary resistance. He will even be ready to die in the ring to satisfy a desire for revenge against the assassin of Apollo Creed (R4). He won this hard-fought battle, sending a message of touching naivety to the Soviet world.
But following this grueling fight, Rocky can no longer fight (R5): he has vision problems and his hands are shaking, which, for once, brought a dose of realism. This backlash unfortunately remained at the stage of a good idea from the film’s poorly exploited start.
For the rest, boxing in Rocky is nonsense, but an impressive nonsense where each blow seems to weigh 32 tons. And it is also thanks to this that the saga makes the viewer go through strong emotions, and finds a fair balance with the parts centered on the sentimental story of Rocky and Adrianne.
Rocky, it’s Sylvester Stallone
Later (R3), Rocky experiences the ransom of glory. He has everything he could wish for: he is rich, known everywhere, participates in charitable works and yet, he misses the essential… Adrianne is not happy and her son is spoiled rotten.
Moreover, he also begins to develop an ego that does him no good. His meeting with the “mad dog” Clubber Lang (Mister T.), who gives him the beating of his life, will quickly bring him back to earth: nothing is ever certain. Here again, it is Stallone who manages his newly acquired fame, sees the excesses that it can bring and shows humility through his favorite persona.
Rocky like Stallone will not stay on top. Almost prophetically, Stallone wrote the story of R5 in 1989, in which Balboa was ruined and decided to become a coach to survive, resting on his past glory. And in reality, the failure of this fifth feature film and several bad films during the 90s will see him experience a crossing of the desert of ten years.
The last two feature films in the saga deal with disillusion, resignation too. In R6, we find Rocky running a small restaurant in the seedy neighborhood of his childhood, where he spends his time telling stories of his glorious past.
Undoubtedly here again the experience for the actor, who at the time of the filming, had not shot anything interesting for almost ten years. These two films focus on much less positive ideas than the first four Rocky films which, shot between 1976 and 1986, defend tooth and nail the idea of the American Dream. An ideology from which Rocky (and Stallone?) seems to have returned.
The way the actor-director has anticipated his own life through the character of Rocky is fascinating, and makes Rocky a deeply human hero and much less cartoonish than the image he gives off for those who have not seen it. as photos or excerpts on their favorite video platform. If the franchise does not always shine by its realization, the emotions it releases are real and the fascinating narrative arc of Rocky, as long as we really immerse ourselves in it.
Take advantage of their availability on Prime Video for another week to rediscover what is, without a doubt, one of the strongest sagas in cinema, the best for the author of these lines, by character trajectory it offers, the decades it goes through, the overall consistency it has, and the fact that it carried its main performer at arm’s length from 1976 to 2018. Unheard of? Perhaps well, and elements that can only inspire one thing: respect.
* To avoid repetitions, the films of the saga are referenced as follows: R1, R2, R3 for Rocky 1, 2, 3 etc. and the Creed movies are C1 and C2.