Second Union

Second Union


Rocky II, 1979 (Sylvester Stallone) United Artists

“I was wonderin’ if, uh, you wouldn’t mind marryin’ me very much.”

I think the sequel mentality of Hollywood started to kick in around the time of Jaws 2. In theory, it represented a smaller investment than the original content that preceded it, and since all (or most) principal parties from the first movie are involved, it should mean less work to be done. Because we have a property already in place, the audience should show up at the box office. That’s the theory anyway. I don’t know if it always works.

The reality is, because of inflation and demand, budgets increase. Case in point: Rocky. The first movie cost less than a million. The first sequel cost $7 million. Jaws 2 was triple the budget of the first movie. Rocky, by itself, isn’t a movie I could readily believe needed to be “sequelized.” It’s a self-contained (perfect) story about a longshot who defies the odds. When the first smell of a sequel enters the room (like burnt toast), it begins to tarnish the shine of the first movie, and it happens with each sequel released.

Rocky 2 begins a few minutes after the first movie ends. Both fighters are rushed to the hospital where they engage in a shouting match during a live press conference. Apollo is accused of rigging the fight, and even Balboa has to defend him. Balboa becomes a local celebrity and picks up some endorsements. He and Adrian marry (after Rocky’s charming proposal to her at the Zoo), buy a row house in South Philly, and she soon gives birth to their son.

The row house is fantastic. I lived in one when I was a kid. You basically walk in. There’s a row of stairs going up to the second floor. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are all on the first floor. There’s a basement downstairs. It brought back so many memories of my youth; some of them good. Balboa wants to get back into boxing in a big way, but he’s warned by a doctor he could go blind because of a detached retina. His trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith) reluctantly goes along with it after Apollo insults Rocky on television. Balboa agrees to a re-match with Creed.

The movie then becomes Rocky with a last-minute Hail-Mary rewrite. Instead of Rocky losing, Rocky wins this time. I wonder why it matters so much that Rocky should win this time. Could we have a succession of movies where Rocky loses each bout? Is that possible? Winning doesn’t make him right, and it doesn’t make him the more talented fighter. It’s just luck. Rocky 2 was a clarion call to the beginning of the 1980s. Optimism was key, and the realism of ’70s cinema was dying a slow death.

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