By now, this franchise should have been maybe running out of steam, but it’s adaptability is something to really admire and all the little subtleties in it still make it more watchable than most sequels.
Yes it does help that this film introduces probably my favourite of all Rocky’s opponents, with Mr T making a very memorable, bombastic Clubber Lang, a man who truly lives up to his first name, but that isn’t the only feature that makes this second sequel work better than others.
At this stage, we have been going through a courageous journey with our hero, but now thanks to the adaptability of many of the cast, the boot is seemingly put on the other foot, with genuinely excellent results.
Having won the World Heavyweight Title from his previous nemesis Apollo Creed, our previously downtrodden hero is now very much on the up, jetting off round the world to defend his title, living like a prince on the massive earnings that go with being in his position, ten title defences behind him and now being a big celebrity asked to endorse various products, having a statue erected in his honour and appearing on television (not bad for a man who couldn’t make commercials in the previous offering from this franchise) he is altogether different to the Rocky we knew and loved previously.
However, there is a big dark cloud on the horizon, in the form of the merciless, undefeated number one contender Clubber Lang, who will stop at nothing to get what he calls the ‘People Champion’ in the ring, despite talk of the Italian Stallion’s retirement.
First Rocky has to deal with a charity benefit fight with the Wrestling world champion Thunderlips, admirably portrayed by Hulk Hogan, which has all the ridiculousness associated with these events in bucket fulls, it’s worth watching just to see Mr T in a Dickie Bow and frilly shirt.
When Clubber turns up at the unveiling of the statue, he publicly challenges Rocky, to give him the chance that Apollo Creed gave Rocky, some additional comments to Rocky’s wife Adrian ensure that Clubber gets exactly what he wants, with the scene set for a sheer grudge match.
On the night of the fight, with Mickey hiding a weak heart, the tension becomes all too much for the 76 year old trainer, leaving a complacent Rocky at the mercy of a battle hardened, ferocious and hungry Clubber, although this is where the film maybe has its main problem, as Rocky comes out, smashing some huge blows to Clubber’s head, but seemingly not leaving a single mark, while Clubber does untold damage to Rocky with a similar amount of blows, it simply doesn’t add up at this point.
However, what does work is how short lived the fight is and suddenly Rocky’s title is gone and so is Mickey, who expires immediately after the fight.
Obscurity beckons for the former champ, until the unlikeliest source of hope, that being Apollo, steps forward and offers to train Rocky differently, with a different style, to make him into a different boxer and very different, very dangerous proposition in the ring.
Once again the film falls short, although for a mercifully short time, as Rocky struggles with training, just like in the previous sequel, this time based around his psychological problems caused by the vicious knock-out by Clubber in their first fight.
That is only short lived thankfully and before too long Rocky has his mojo back and he certainly has the very reason that the film needs him to have, because he has a serious grudge with Clubber, which goes way beyond anything we have seen from him before.
While Clubber carries on with his attitude, you can see the thoughts of what Rocky is trying to do consuming him, he is still bombastic and venomous and altogether very dangerous, but thanks to the change our hero has gone through under Apollo’s training, he is now facing a very different Rocky, more like the one that Apollo faced twice, who seriously believes that he has got nothing to lose as he challenges for the title again.
The film reaches its climax at breakneck speed, with some of the best fight camerawork to come out of a Hollywood blockbuster, with no quarter asked or given.
The other early part of the film that also needs mentioning because it works really well, is Paulie’s part in the story, with his drinking problem and his jealousy of Rocky. What it does early in the piece is show you exactly where one of the truly great screen friendships is at, with Rocky having to bail him out of the drunk tank, after Paulie shows his contempt for his sister’s husband in truly gritty fashion in an amusement arcade.
What that does is immediately involve Paulie in the journey that Rocky takes through this movie and it is all the better for it, with Paulie in his corner in all his fights after that, while setting up the rivalry between him and Apollo extremely well.
Again, this film falls well short of the original, however it is still very watchable, all the characters are deeply invested in it and the camerawork is nothing short of excellent during the very graphic fight scenes, while also adding nicely to Rocky’s story and character and taking into account what had gone previously.