It’s hard to have a discussion about sports movies without Rocky popping in the conversation. It’s easy to understand why, it possesses all the staples and tropes of the genre and perfectly encompasses the ever-so-familiar underdog plot line. It’s funny that it has become more or less the epitome of the sports film, because it really doesn’t have all that much sports in it. But Rocky has established itself as one of the most wildly enduring films of any genre in Hollywood history, and, for the most part, deserves that distinction.
I must admit, I wanted to like Rocky more than I did. I only say that because of the massive amount of fans this film has, all of whom hold it up as one of the best movies ever made. It’s a very hyped up movie, to the point that I think a lot of people will be disappointed by it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Rocky is a bad movie by any means. I think it’s great, but I wanted to like it as much as all the dads in the world who see it as the Holy Grail of sports movies. That being said, most of my problems with it lie in one area, the cliched plot. Rocky is the story of a down on his luck boxer. That’s really all I need to say. If you haven’t seen the movie you can probably piece the rest of the basic story from there. Rocky’s sad because he’s not doing so great, he finds a girl that motivates him, gets another kick at the can, David vs. Goliath finale, you get the idea. It’s a story that’s been done in thousands of films and storybooks from your childhood.
Making up for it, however, is both Stallone’s incredibly confident performance and his strong script. I really couldn’t see anyone else playing Rocky. Stallone defined the character in 1976. His youthful sweetness mixed with the intimidating strongman persona works great for Stallone, who has never been better than he was in Rocky. Everyone around him puts on amazing performances as well, including Talia Shire as Rocky’s love interest, Adrian, who slowly and beautifully develops from a secluded pet store attendant to an open and confident boxer’s girlfriend. But my favourite supporting cast member was Burt Young as Adrian’s brother Paulie, who screams and drinks his way through the film in a way that is both entertaining and threatening.
While the story may not be the greatest thing Rocky has going for it, Stallone’s script deals with it beautifully. The dialogue gracefully weaves its way through the simplistic story. Rocky’s interactions with each character manage to entertain and play at the emotions in a way that is truly memorable. Like I said about the Godfather, this isn’t the type of movie you see getting made anymore. It takes its time like no movie, especially a sports movie, does anymore. This allows the characters to develop truly meaningful relationships with each other on the screen. They have conversations that are completely inconsequential to the plot, but allow you to get to know them on a deeper level and enjoy it the whole time. Rocky doesn’t need to rely on the sport itself to tell its story. We see one fight at the beginning and the end, with the middle section dedicated to the characters and their relationships.
There are exceptions to that rule though. My only other problems with Rocky are with a handful of scenes and moments that are generally quite campy and cheesy. At a couple moments, the film becomes overly sentimental and heavy-handed. But the highlights outweigh these moments, letting me enjoy the film much more often than I found myself bored or distracted.
Rocky is still a great sports movie. But it’s far from as perfect as many will lead you to believe. It has some great characters and dialogue, but it also places them into an over-done underdog story with its fair share of cheese. Don’t let those things get in your way of watching it, however. It remains a classic sports film, and staple of that genre. If nothing else, you’ll be motivated to get off your ass and do some stair climbing by the end of it.