Ah HA! Now I gets it!
You see, all the things that I as a person who had not watched any of these films except for the bits and pieces from TBS, all those moments and tropes and concepts that I thought were in Rocky ... they are ALL from Rocky II. Well, except for Eye of the Tiger, though there is a lot of tiger imagery throughout.
Rocky II and Rocky could be seamlessly edited together to make one very large movie, which is kind of great. And I do mean that tonally as well as scriptually. Rocky II opens with the final few minutes of the fight, including the stuff with Adrian. From there, well ... you just see more of these characters you grew to love in the first film (other than Paulie, ptooie) as their lives have changed because of the last big fight with Apollo Creed.
This may not be a controversial statement, or it may be, but in my honest opinion, Rocky II is a better made film than the first Rocky. The script is just as tight, the acting is still phenomenal, but the way Stallone, now in the director's chair, shoots the fight, he now makes the fight also important to the film. In doing so, he doesn't remove any of the weight of the real life consequences. And all the roles are extended to get even more into these characters. Mickey in particular. Watching Rocky go through these first two acts, making all these dumb mistakes because he's just that, dumb, you care about him and you are saying to the screen "Rocky, come on, don't," knowing full well 1) he can't hear you, and 2) he's going to do it. Trying to watch him keep his promise to Adrian is heartbreaking. And Adrian and Rocky's marriage, their relationship, is one of the most honest and wonderfully written ones in film.
Stallone uses a lot of symmetry in this film as well. Symmetry from this film to the last one, but also within the movie. I love how the openings of the films mimic each other, except this time, instead of seeing Rocky going through Philadelphia, we almost cynically see the ambulances driving through the city instead, with the same music playing as before. Stallone isn't as deft as the previous director, John G. Avildson - who won the Best Director Academy Award for Rocky - but he brings a lot to the table, a lot of great technique and ideas. Yes, he does do the slowmo+fade+freeze-frame combo two times too many in the movie. But that doesn't renig all the other great work he did. And the sound and foley is much superior.
I couldn't decide which Foley to use for the joke. So have them all.
Like I said at the top, Rocky II I feel is a better movie than Rocky. That said ... I actually think I like Rocky just a little hair more. These films are both just absolutely great. And I look forward to rewatching them and continuing to argue with myself which I like more. Stallone just writes absolutely wonderful characters, and I cannot wait to be introduced to one of the (some have said) greatest villains to ever be put to film. See you tomorrow, Mr. T!
Rocky Movie Review Bank