Before I saw Rocky for the first time, I really didn’t know what to expect. By now, Sylvester Stallone has such a bad reputation as an actor and Rocky with all its sequels always seemed to me like a copy of Rambo with all its sequels. The fact that, at one time, Sylvester Stallone was a serious, Academy-Award-nominated actor and that the original Rocky was actually a big hit with audiences and critics alike is so perplexing to me that it still surprises me when I think about it.
Anyway, like so many Best Picture winners Rocky has both admirers and opponents. For me, it’s not as bad as I expected it to be but I don’t want to give it too much praise either.
It’s not just the problem that the characters are underwritten by Stallone even though he constantly tried to turn them into more, the acting itself is also rather average, especially for a movie that scored four acting nominations. Stallone tries too hard to be Marlon Brando but his limited range prevents him from really balancing all the aspects he wants Rocky to portray but I still give him credit for managing to mix a certain element of sensitivity into his tough guy. Talia Shire is less successful as she manages to overact in her attempt to underact and sometimes makes her Adrian appear like Ingrid Bergman’s Greta Ohlsson – her shyness and awkwardness is too exaggerated and very often the chemistry between her and Stallone doesn’t work either. Both actors obviously try to do the best they can but it too often feels like two average actors trying to impress with their supposedly great but ultimately limited method acting. Burgess Meredith may take the acting crown in Rocky even though I am still not too crazy about him and both Burt Young’s performance and his character still make little sense to me.
I also strongly dislike the way Stallone lets the main plot begin – Apollo Creed wants to fight some guy and picks Rocky because he likes his name? That’s it? Overall, the whole plot too often feels very constructed and lacks a certain natural flow. It’s a simple story about simple people and I do appreciate that, besides the main plot, the movie found some little, more believable moments like Rocky talking to a young girl on the street. And the final scenes are also finally the moments when the story begins to touch my heart – the realism of the boxing fight combined with the, thankfully, not fairytale-like ending and the hug between Rocky and Adrian let the movie end on a high note. Ultimately, Rocky is neither as good nor as bad as usually said – it’s a movie that has its moments but its status as a legendary classic is rather perplexing to me.