Variety ain’t always the spice of life. Just look to the “Rocky” films, which for three decades now have been a testament to the fact that you can build a franchise on the exact same formula. Rocky’s down and out. He struggles. He finds encouragement from Adrian. He trains. He fights.
Oh, he trains. The “Rocky” films have defined the training montage from the first tootings of Bill Conti’s horn-heavy theme to the inevitable moment when a grey-sweatsuited Sylvester Stallone climbs something and lifts his arms in triumph, the endlessly parodied and beyond-iconic training segments have defied irony, sneering and accusations of intense cheesiness. Arriving with unnerving accuracy an hour into almost every “Rocky” installment, the montages get the job done like some form of celluloid freebase one whiff and you’re on your feet, cheering. As a boxer, Rocky has never met an bizarre training method he didn’t like he punches meat! He does lunges with a log! “Rocky Balboa,” the latest and last (and I can’t imagine otherwise) film in the series finds Stallone comfortably slipping back into the character the way one would toe on a favorite pair of shoes sure, he looks worse for the wear, but who doesn’t? As he chugs raw eggs, does one-armed pushups and takes a (canine-accompanied!) run up the stairs of Philadelphia Museum of Art, questions like “Why did this movie get made again?” fade from the mind. The world could always use another training montage. Here’s a look at the ones in “Rocky”s through the ages.
Song: Bill Conti – “Gonna Fly Now”
Trainer: Mickey Goldmill
Definitive moment: Rocky beats up a side of beef.
Shots of opponent training? No Apollo Creed is mostly shown schmoozing.
Company on the climatic stair-run: No one the first time, he goes it alone.
A good portion of original recipe “Rocky” is spent setting up the elements that will make up the definitive training montage. In a series of pre-montage moments, Rocky pulls himself out of bed in the pre-dawn, tosses back five raw eggs and take a jog through the quiet streets of Philly, gasping his way up the museum stairs. He visits Paulie, who in a fit of rage (“It is cold in here!”) pummels a nearby meat slab, inspiring him to do the same and prompting the eternal question from a visiting reporter: “Do other fighters pound raw meat?” “Nah, I think I invented it,” he replies.
The montage itself, set to Conti’s Rocky theme, starts with Rocky running through the streets of his run-down neighborhood (a trashcan is on fire; someone throws him an apple) and down towards the water cuts show him at the speed bag, doing one-armed and clapping pushups, getting mysteriously but, one presumes, therapeutically punched in the stomach, pounding more lumps of meat, and finally, back to the run, accelerating to take the stairs at dawn, one of the first uses of a Steadicam. Rocky raises his arms and jumps up and down, and…freeze frame.
Rocky II (1979)
Songs: Bill Conti – “Going the Distance”/”Gonna Fly Now”
Trainer: Mickey Goldmill
Definitive moment: Rocky catches the chicken.
Shots of opponent training? Yes Apollo Creed, newly serious, punches bags, skips rope, and beats up a flunky.
Company on the climatic stair-run: Masses of children and grown fans.
In the pre-montage portion of the movie, we see a droopy Rocky half-heartedly training without Adrian’s approval Mickey employs the dubious 1920s technique of having Rocky chase a chicken around (“I feel like a Kentucky-fried idiot”). Later, empowered by Adrian’s command to “Win!”, Rocky embarks on not one but two training montages the first finds him doing one-armed pushups in silhouette at dawn, using a sledgehammer in a scrap yard, doing squats and lunges with nothing less than a log on his shoulders, lifting weights, skipping rope and finally catching that chicken (“Speed Speed! Speeeeed!” Mickey screeches). And…freeze frame. Then unfreeze frame, and after a quick interlude with his newborn son, Rocky sets off down the train tracks to Conti’s familiar theme. As he runs through the streets of his neighborhood, people are considerably friendlier (though the trashcan is still on fire). Rocky starts gathering a crowd of kids and others who run along with him one imagines just to show they could, as there was trouble wrangling extras in the first “Rocky” going faster and faster until he takes the stairs and the masses, catching up to him, cheer “Rocky! Rocky!” And…freeze!