Origin stories have drowned out the originality of the big-budget feature. Nowadays, everything, whether it is a supporting riff from an old legend or a leading role of an established franchise, needs an origin story. Before it was hip and resourceful to do so, though, The Godfather II took a portion of the Mario Puzo book, The Godfather, and siphoned it off into a sequel. While it may open with a mother’s love for her young boy and the lengths she will go to in defending him, the real core of The Godfather II is that the gut instinct of those threatened by the young boy is correct. It is a common occurrence in The Godfather. Instinct is the unmovable object, and it is that which The Godfather II bases itself on.
When problems are unearthed, it is difficult to then return to the roots. They are no longer deep underground; they have been hacked to death by previous attempts at solving the issues and problems surrounding a bad project. Such is the life of Rocky V, a film which hopes the inclusion of director John G. Avildsen will fix the floundering style of the series. If anything, he makes it worse. He is stuffing things back into places they once belonged, but can no longer fit. It is the growth of the series and the direction Sylvester Stallone took it in during Rocky III and Rocky IV that leaves us with the ultimate battle. Not of a man fighting for his life, but of a performer fighting for relevancy.
Deterioration is inevitable. As a series staggers on, there are only those rare glimmers that will outshine the predecessors. Rocky, especially those sequels that followed on from its second instalment, are ramshackle affairs that wish to fly on the wings and merit of the first two. Its rise and fall of the underdog story are complete, and now the series must, once again, turn to pastures new. Or at least, that should have happened. Instead, it opens with Eye of the Tiger and ends with the hero of America standing tall above the villain of Russia. As on the nose as sports dramas go, Rocky IV is the emotionally overwrought, uneventfully rough piece from dangerously drained minds.
Who’d have thought Bill Conti’s immaculate soundtrack could sound so drained of life? Rocky III is the sequel that never needed to be, following on from Rocky II, a sequel that wasn’t particularly necessary either. One of the many differences between the two is that Rocky II had heart. It showed Sylvester Stallone could star and direct with competence. Inevitably, then, he would wish to strike the same notes of success again. We cannot fault him for trying, but where can Rocky Balboa (Stallone) go if he has already reached the top of the food chain? That is where we left him, and from here on in, the staple style of the franchise was lost. No longer was the series an underdog punching up, it was the famed fighter hitting down.
Surprisingly, the arc of the Rocky franchise began as the underdog losing to the better-prepared man, and soon became the rise and rise of a fighter who would eventually own a robot butler. That is the magic we love to see at the cinema. “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” is what we heard. Those immortal words closed off a story that should live on as a dependable, sentimental statement. We may lose the battle but the experience will see us out as a winner. That is not enough for the series, hence the existence of Rocky II. It is the do-over that wasn’t necessary but still provides a collation of excellent sequences, a stripping back of its antagonist, and another outing for Sylvester Stallone to prove himself an immortal champion of sporting fiction.
Bolstered by the fine writing he had offered in the Oscar-winning Patton, Francis Ford Coppola, now seemingly on top of his game, sauntered into Paramount Studios in need of work. His production studio owed hundreds of thousands to Warner Bros., and his previous film, The Rain People, had bombed. But he had an Academy Award in the bag and showed no signs of stopping. His initial hesitance to take on Mario Puzo’s The Godfather as his next project stemmed from the “cheap” nature Coppola had assigned to the book. Still, that mounting financial pressure changed his mind, and that is indeed for the better, for The Godfather is a stroke of pure, raw passion.
Whatever the story of Rip Van Winkle may represent, director Francis Ford Coppola tries his best to adapt it to the big screen. His Faerie Tale Theatre entry, introduced by Shelley Duvall, is a strange choice. A sure-fire passion project, and one that links the great director with the writings of Washington Irving. While Rip Van Winkle may have within it a primitive and simple story, it is the essential meaning behind it that marks it as a memorable short piece of literature, and though Coppola has capable hands-on deck, he does not quite inspire the story of appreciating what you have and when you have it.
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.