For the four of us out there that have recently watched Grudge Match, it’s surprising to think that the two leading lads from that 2013 disaster did, at one time, have much more respect for the niche genre that is drama films with boxing-centric stories. Raging Bull and Rocky are decades gone from these stoic old creatures, but it’s nice to reflect on a period where a sports drama wasn’t your usual soppy, oversaturated camera angles and message of wholesome, yet agonisingly poor-quality teamwork building exercises. The John G. Avildsen classic, Rocky, is a film worthy of revisiting, not only to experience perhaps the best sports drama of all time, but to see how gracefully the career of Sylvester Stallone began.
It’s as much about boxing as it is a romance. The romantic centrepiece, with Stallone and Talia Shire riffing off of one another with great ease, is what I’ll remember Rocky best for. Its message of hope and desire is far more powerful than that of sportsmanship and hard work paying off, which is certainly present, but feels less defined on a second viewing. Stallone and Shire’s chemistry bases itself on two phenomenal performances, they’re up to the challenge of giving us their all in two very demanding roles.
If the emotional exertion from Stallone weren’t enough, he plays well with Carl Weathers’ infamous role as Apollo Creed. An exceptional performance once more, not quite an antagonist but nowhere close to being the hero he would become in later films found in this series. John G. Avildsen’s direction brings life to a superbly penned script by none other than Stallone himself. There’s no doubt that this is the film that shot him to stardom, and rightly so, he presents all of his staple charms within, and there’s plenty of room for him to grow. Surprisingly likeable, and certainly capable of holding his own on the big screen, he’s that desirable leading man Hollywood bend over backwards for, but in this case, they’ve gotten one that works like a charm.
Rocky isn’t a film that showcases a message of hard work paying off, it’s one that shows no matter how hard you try, failure is always looming. Just because you’re the best at something, doesn’t mean you’re indestructible. It’s a surprisingly mature message from a film where Sylvester Stallone punches a slab of meat. Infamous training montages, a resolute leading man, and at its core, the very engaging message of trying your best in the face of an uphill struggle, it’s a marvellous film that has rightfully reserved its place as one of the all-time greats. Such a pleasure to watch this one again, a film that brings such elation to its highs, but sincere understanding to its lows. Balance is key, and this is one such film that brings out the best in both outcomes.