I thought Rocky was going to be the motivating pick-me-up that I needed on my hungover post-Superbowl Monday. Instead, it was a warning: don’t become a whiny little bitch like Rocky Balboa.
No, really – I hated the first half of Rocky. But I know why I needed to. Rather than introducing Rocky solely as an underdog, he’s introduced as a loser who thinks he’s better than he is. When he accepts that he has to work for the things he wants, he becomes an admirable, enjoyable, relatable character, and a worthy protagonist.
It all comes down to: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Mickey, the trainer, says it. Rocky could have been great, but he chose to become a thug, throwing his talent away because he believed working hard was beneath him.
That moment comes, for me, when he reaches the top of the steps – the climactic moment of that iconic training montage, which I now realise isn’t cherished for its visual impact, but its importance to the story. He’s achieved something more than physical fitness. He’s mentally ready to fight. Because, as we see from the end, the only thing that matters is going the distance.
I expected Rocky to be little more than a rousing montage flick. These films always lead their protagonists to victory through some kind of misguided sense of destiny, but Rocky didn’t. While it’s still not my kind of film, I can appreciate its hardworking southpaw approach to the classic underdog story.