Rocky II is better than Rocky (1976) because the boring character exposition has already been worked out and now we can sit back and enjoy the fully developed participants as old friends.
Both films end with fight sequences that reduce Rocky to bloody hamburger, but somewhere in-between he grew from a moron into a responsible husband, father and grownup and the reasons we want him to succeed seem manifold.
In Rocky II the 200-pound Italian tractor marries the mouse from the pet shop, moves her from the Philadelphia slums into a neat new middle-class house in a respectable neighbourhood, and settles down to become a regular guy.
Alas, he has neither the education nor the experience to hold down an office job, and even working in a meat-packing plant ends in unemployment.
Meanwhile, the black champ Apollo Creed is having his own problems handling his hate mail from Rocky fans who insist he won the title at the end of Rocky through sheer luck and technicality.
Rocky gets smeared in a campaign to bring him back into the ring that labels-him “The Italian Chicken,” Talia Shire stops disapproving long enough to go into a coma after the premature birth of a new baby called “Rocky Jr.,” everyone learns to pray, and when she recovers long enough to say “please win” the fans go wild.
Stallone’s direction is solid, except for a few unnecessary slow-motion clichés, and the disco music by Bill Conti is inserted in just the right places to accent the mounting tension.
Burgess Meredith is brilliant as the battered old pug who rants and pushes and insults Rocky until he gets those gloves on for the big re-match.
The other actors give the same performance they gave the first time around. The movie wallows in corn, to be sure, but it is so slickly assembled and edited and scored that it ends up winning new fans.
Mary Anne Creed