Certainly we have the “every underdog has a chance to be great if they really try” flavor of the first two movies, the “we can overcome setbacks and be really great” message. But this is balanced somewhat by the character’s smug arrogance in the third movie (with its use of Mr. T as the “angry black man” who almost, almost, brings him down a peg.)
The movie that really gets its America on though, is Rocky IV, where the villainous and emotionally cold product of Soviet Communist Aggression, Ivan Drago (played by a suitably robotic Dolph Lundgren) kills the popular Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) when he stands in for Rocky in an exception match. Rocky challenges the man whose first name was the pejorative for Russia following WWII and whose last name suggests “dragon” to a fight, in Drago’s Godless Russia, on Christmas, which we all know, is really, really American. The respective training montages show the earthy, make-do-with-anything pluck of an American vs the cold, scientific and (considering the steroids Drago takes) ultimately cheating nature of all Communism. This movie is like a re-telling of 1950s propaganda films. And even though Rocky is almost beaten to death too, he somehow summons all his America-ness and beats the technically superior foe, even winning over the hearts and minds of Drago’s own countrymen with how darn awesome and never-give-up-ity Rocky is. Cue the end of the Cold War and tell Nietzsche he was wrong about the ubermensch thing.
The last two movies continue to mine the “you win, but then time passes and you’re back to the old neighborhood with just your memories” theme. Rocky V shows that, even when your past your prime, you stand up for what’s right and somehow persevere and win.
Being as this is the role Sylvester Stallone is most associated with (having written them all and directed films II-IV) he puts much of himself into it. Often portrayed as the underdog (though his fight record for the films is 4-2) who is, by turns, beaten down (often literally, but also by life and age), Stallone also allows the character to be cocky, over-confident and ready to be brought down several pegs. That is to say, he always keeps Rocky just this much on the human side of super-human.
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.