Judging the Rocky workout montages based on what type of wall I would run through after viewing.
There is a freshness and unexpectedness to this first Rocky workout montage that still remains even when watching it now. Why is Rocky running in a gray sweat suit? Where is this going? What is about to happen? But the music, which is so vital to all of the Rocky workout montages, tells the story. It grows and crescendos until the synthesizer finally hits in a keening whine while Rocky is doing pushups, and we finally know what is about to go down. This guy is doing work. He is getting pumped, and we get pumped with him. The first, unexpected workout montage does what none of the others could, because they weren’t first. As Rocky goes from a limping jog to a full-on sprint through the streets of Philadelphia, with a choir singing in the background, “Getting strong now.” It establishes that emotional connection to Rocky that we never had before, and it creates the by-product of all of these workout montages -hope. Hope that lets you dare to believe that he can win. He can beat Creed. He can go the distance against all odds. And when the camera zooms upwards from the bottom of those steps to a dancing Rocky, and when he throws his hands up in the air in that now iconic pose, I feel like I can do anything too.
Rocky: I would run through a brick wall.
Even at this point, the workout montage was a necessity in any Rocky film, so the trick here was to get us to want it even though we expected it. So Rocky II goes through some of the most boring and frustrating footage in all the Rocky films- Rocky putzing around, reading to Adrian, training like a bum- in an effort to get a payoff when that music finally hits. And when Adrian tells him to ‘win,’ we buckle up baby. And when he starts doing one-handed push-ups at a junkyard, we know we about to get this bread. But this scene never hits a great crescendo moment, it is broken up awkwardly by Rocky putting his baby to sleep, and even though the kids singing was a nice touch, and I enjoyed watching Rocky dust their slow asses, I don’t need them celebrating with him on the stairs, and I don’t really need him on the stairs again in general. This one establishes the Rocky workout montage as a ‘thing’ but didn’t quite know how to build off of its success yet. And for that I would probably run through some dry wall by the end but that’s about it.
Rocky II: I would run through dry wall.
This Rocky workout montage seems to learn from Rocky II’s mistakes, starting with the music busting into the room like the Kool-aid man. The bass slaps so hard it gets your hairs standing on end before any of the good stuff even happens. They figured out that these montages are all about overcoming more than sheer exertion, and so watching slow-footed, lumbering Rocky at the beginning of the montage become slim, trim, fleet-footed Rocky by the end makes me ready to go find my local beach with some shorty shorts and run on some sand. The close-up shots of Creed’s and Rocky’s thighs starts to usher in the “steroid” era of Rocky, making them mythical, larger than life figures that can do the impossible. And the climax of this music is so good. It hits a peak with “getting strong noooowwwwww,” making you think it is done like the last two montages, but then draws out the moment until they are on the beach in a foot race. And then, when Rocky finally beats Creed, you are like, “Awwwww man, Mr. T better watch his ass before it gets beat!” There is a slight come-down at the end though when Creed and Rocky dance and hug in the water like this is Baywatch.
Rocky III: I would run through a plywood wall.
The Rocky IV workout montage comes in two parts separated by an Adrian interaction. And it works. The first portion has got some haunting synthesizer as Rocky looks over the Siberian cold, and the camera continually moves back and forth between Rocky and Drago training in drastically different ways. This is the montage where everything clicks for the Rocky workout montage franchise. It is all about overcoming adversity. Rocky is the punchy underdog and this first scene sets up how much of an underdog he actually is as he faces the blistering cold and lack of advanced training methods that lie firmly in Drago’s corner. BUT WAIT…. After an Adrian pump up, cue “Hearts on Fire,” and get amped. The pinnacle of this workout montage is immediately after the break when the synthesizer hits and John Cafferty drops, “Silent darkness creeps inside your sooooul.” And everything after is brand new. The truly grueling nature of this workout becomes evident as Rocky does a bunch of ridiculous feats of strength that make him seem like a superhero. The other workout montages seemed intense, this one seems unbelievable. Meanwhile, Drago shows how much of a freak of nature he is with what he does, but it seems so much more attainable in the comforts of his gyms, carefully controlled by his trainers. We cheer harder and get more pumped for Rocky lifting heavy boulders, and lifting his training group in a giant wheelbarrow, we want the grit and determination of the underdog who has nothing, to beat the evil steroid-injected Russian who has everything. And by the end, as Rocky runs away from his Russian babysitters and overcomes their cold and snow to climb their tallest peaks and screams Drago’s name from the top of the mountain, we know he can do it.
Rocky IV: I would run through a cinderblock wall
Its weird that they never made a Rocky V….Oh well…
This was the workout montage we never thought we would see, and because of that they got to be self-aggrandizing and go back to the well one more time. They didn’t have to come up with anything new, we didn’t want anything new. They just, after so long, needed to show us Rocky overcoming all odds and becoming a boxing monster again. So they went back to the original music, and it is phenomenal. The “getting strong now” choir hits at just the right spot, and the violin strings send shivers through my soul as Rocky, old and beaten up, washed up and past his time, transforms, once again, into someone we believe in. He can go the distance like we have seen so many times before. They even end on the stairs, something they shouldn’t have done in Rocky II, but definitely works in this one. But the true greatness in this Rocky workout montage is the speech before it begins. Duke leads off with all the crap Rocky can’t do because he’s old and had the crap beaten out of him by Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago. But then he tells him what they ARE going to do, and I’m here for it. They are going to use ‘blunt force trauma,’ ‘good old-fashioned horsepower,’ ‘heavy-duty cast-iron punches’ that ‘will rattle his ancestors,’ *cracks kneck* “Oh yeah. Let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs.” Then the music hits…oh maaaaan. Give the people what they want!
Rocky Balboa: I would run through a glass partition.
Creed was fresh blood and a fresh take on the Rocky workout montage. Creed wasn’t just the underdog, he had a crisis of identity, and this montage slowly built his training skills, his belonging on the streets of Philadelphia, and his love for Rocky. The music was a modernized play off the old style but gets a huge pop when the rap kicked in as Creed runs the streets, just like Rocky used to do, but this time with ATVs and motorbikes peeling out left and right, a much improved rendition of being chased by small children. This Rocky workout montage is good, but mostly for the story it tells and not for the adrenaline pumping grey out and forget where you are energy that some of the others inspire.
Creed: I would run through a wood paneled wall.
This Rocky workout montage takes its time. As the sixth installment in the workout montage lineage, it has seen the failures before it, it has seen what works, it has seen the changes and development over time, and then it bashes our collective teeth in with a nasty left hand jab, right hand uppercut. The soul music as they drive into the desert establishes the forlorn and sorrowful feel of both Creed and Drago. And when Rocky tells Creed, “If you’re going back to hell you might as well get used to it.” We know we are in for something special. The cool part of Creed II that this workout montage captures is that, more than any movie before it, both fighters have a story to tell, and so maybe except for Rocky IV (fitting) this workout montage plays up both fighters more than usual. We see Drago just mashing fools in his gym, leaving them in a limp puddle of flesh, sweat, and stupid looking headgear. And we see Creed struggle to find a rhythm in the desert as he sledgehammers the dry cracked ground and gets mauled by a guy with the biggest trapezoids on the planet as they both keep their feet a tires width away from each other. Creed II, better than any Rocky movie montage before it, plays up the underdog, ‘can’t do it’ mindset. As the soul music hits again and slows the pace, we see Creed throwing up from getting hit in the gut so many times, getting in a full body ice bath with his knuckles torn to shreds, stepping out of the tire because he’s getting beat like a stray dog, and ultimately falling in the middle of the road, in the middle of the desert. As Rocky looks at an inert Creed from the car urging him to “Get up,” the music draws out in a long and crescendo-ing, “Amen, Am-EN, AAAAAMEEEEEEEEEN!” Creed gets to his feet, the bell rings, the rap hits, “Breaking out the cage, tell them lock the chains.” And this shit takes off. The beat is faster than ever before as Adonis fists pop of punches in a blur in the ring, against pads, over a barrel of fire, it doesn’t matter, Adonis Creed is reborn in the desert, and he will destroy anyone in a fight, and I will fucking run through any goddamn wall in my way. We even get an awesome throwback scene with him outsprinting Rocky’s car with that same ole choir getting their vocal workout in the background. Perfection.
Creed II: I would run through a pre-panelized load bearing metal stud wall.
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