While there’s little doubt that Rocky has earned its place in the pantheon of celebrated sports movies, it’s just as clear that the film hasn’t aged all that well in the years since its 1976 release. With its extremely deliberate pace and emphasis on elements an unmistakably ’70s nature, Rocky is undoubtedly a product of its time – and yet there’s simply no denying the film’s overall effectiveness, particularly with regard to Sylvester Stallone’s strong, surprisingly textured performance. The bare bones storyline follows Stallone’s Rocky as he enlists the help of grizzled trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and loyal friend Paulie (Burt Young) to prepare for a fight with reigning champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers); there’s also a subplot revolving around Rocky’s efforts to woo a shy pet shop employee named Adrian (Talia Shire). Directed by John G. Avildsen and written by Stallone, Rocky is often more effective as an understated character study than as a rousing sports movie – particularly as Stallone initially emphasizes his character’s meager existence. It’s not until about the halfway mark that the film starts to adopt the sort of elements that viewers have come to associate with this series – ie a training montage set to Bill Conti’s indelible score – and it’s obvious that it’s because of such moments that Rocky is considered a minor classic (it doesn’t hurt, of course, that the climactic bout remains genuinely exciting and suspenseful).
*** out of ****