There weren’t going to be no rematch but then we wouldn’t have a franchise, would we? Rocky II tries to recapture the magic of the first film but comes up short in the drama department saving the best for the big final fight. Rocky II climbs in the ring for its first 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release with a Best Buy Exclusive single-title SteelBook. While the Dolby Vision transfer is excellent, the audio has issues WB should address and the lack of any bonus features is a sticking point for sure.
Robert "Rocky" Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) did what no one else has ever done - gone the distance against the Heavyweight Champion of the World: Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Marrying the love of his life Adrian (Talia Shire) and fixing to make it big doing commercials, everything is looking up for the Italian Stallion. Until it all starts to slide away and nothing goes to plan. Just when he’s at his lowest, Apollo Creed comes calling for a rematch giving Rocky one more chance to prove himself to the world.
Sequels are a tricky prospect for any hit film. On the one hand, you want to expand the story and further the characters, but on the other hand you also want to give people more of what they loved the first time around. Stepping behind the camera for the first time as the franchise’s writer, start, and director, Sylvester Stallone had his work cut out for him. At times the film works great. Rocky struggling to get through his cue cards while filming a deodorant commercial is the most brutally honest and heart-wrenching scene of the film. The rest of the dramatic elements just feel like it’s trying to replay the greatest hits of the first film and have them be just as endearing.
That isn’t to say there’s nothing to like about this film. It’s a fine flick on its own, but Rocky is a tough fight to follow and the wait for the film’s training montage and final fight sequence is a long one. But once it finds its energy, the pace picks up for a rousing training sequence complete with Rocky stealing a bunch of children away from their parents and taking them on a fifteen-mile run through Philadelphia is silly but proves this movie has a big heart and Stallone was genuinely trying to recapture the inspirational emotions of the first round.
Then we come to the big rematch with Creed and it’s exciting stuff. Stallone manages the action of the fight with some exciting fisticuffs. Weather’s Creed is bitter and motivated to prove he’s still the champ and that Philadelphia’s finest is just another bum. Weather’s punches are faster, harder, and his antics are more insulting. Once again Stallone’s Rocky proves he’s got an iron face taking punch after punch before getting to let out a few powerful hits of his own complete with bloodied-up noses and swollen eyes. This is the last fight of the franchise where these warriors look like they’re taking serious damage. My one real complaint with this fight is that Adrian and Paulie are watching it on TV at home. The emotional cutbacks to their reactions just don’t stick the same way they did in the first film or in the later sequels.
Not the greatest sequel ever made, Rocky II is far from the worst. It means well, it’s entertaining, and you can see Stallone figure out his form as a writer and director. It’s just that the first film was so damn good that any sequel was going to have a tough uphill fight ahead of it. Thankfully for the later installments, Stallone would lean into the ridiculousness a little bit and just go for broke with the fights leaving minimal personal character conflict to bog down the proceedings.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Like its predecessor, Rocky II comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a Best Buy Exclusive single-title 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital SteelBook Release. Once again the 4K disc is identical to the one found in the not-quite-so Knockout Collection and the included Blu-ray is the exact same disc offered by MGM/FOX. However, as has been the case with all past releases, there aren’t any bonus features. Both the 4K and Blu-ray disc load to static image main menus with traditional navigation options.
A big hit sequel gets a bigger budget and you can feel how much more professional-looking this film is with a gorgeous 1.85:1 2160p Dolby Vision transfer. While still very 70s appearing, the film as a whole is a lot cleaner, brighter, and more lavish so you can see more of those fine details in clothing, locations, and in facial features. Film grain is fine and apparent throughout without looking too noisy or intrusive. I also didn’t notice any of the slight smoothing I spotted for the first film so it looks more naturally uniform.
Dolby Vision HDR offers up similar enhancements to black levels, whites, and primaries as the first film. I felt like this image had a lot more depth to it than before with stronger shadow gradience for those dramatic bits as Rocky tries to read to the comatose Adrian. Reds, yellows, and Blues once again pop beautifully without looking oversaturated and skin tones are nice and healthy without looking to peached or oranged-up. Again the final fight between Rocky and Apollo is the real dazzler moment but Rocky’s training montage is another highlight moment for the film moving from Mick's gym to chasing chickens to Rocky outrunning a hoard of zombie children. All in all an impressive transfer and a notable improvement over past releases.
It’s difficult to judge this area of the disc because it’s just wrong all over. All you have to do is pop on the old Blu-ray to hear the issue - it’s pitched too low. It’s not softness that can be compensated with a volume shift, dialog, music cues, or sound effects simply sound lower than before and just not quite natural. It’s not a huge shift mind you, but enough of one to kinda itch in your ears after a while. To that end, it’s actually difficult to understand what happened and why it affected both the DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks but it’s there. Looking through that pitch issue, levels are spot on and each track is nicely engaging in its own way. Dialog is clean for both tracks with an active sound design giving dialog and active sequences plenty of attention. The film really picks up again for the training montage and the big final bout with Creed. NA/5
Rocky II isn’t the worst film of the franchise - not by a miles-long run to the Philadelphia Museum of Art - but it’s not a great movie. As a followup to the iconic first film, it checks off some key boxes but the dramatic angle for the characters just isn’t as endearing even as the training montage is more strenuous and the fight sequence more ferocious. With the same 4K disc as the Knockout Collection set, the Dolby Vision transfer looks terrific giving some great visual heft to this film, but sadly the same audio errors for both the 5.1 and original theatrical audio tracks carried over making them a serious sticking issue. As Warner Bros. is well aware of the issue, we’re awaiting final word from their side about any possible disc replacement. On top of that, the lack of bonus features is a stickler. Recommended but proceed with caution otherwise Skip It until the corrected product is on the market.
If and or when replacement discs are confirmed and issued, we'll update our reviews accordingly. Until Warner Bros. officially addresses the issues with the Rocky discs, we're withholding a definitive final Star and Recommendation rating