WHAT I LIKED: The first Rocky is the quintessential boxing movie about a little man rising up but never truly succeeding as everything works against him, and what Sylvester Stallone's immediate sequel does is to effectively recapture all that engaging stuff from before but in a story that resolves itself in a much less skeptical way. Indeed after being denied the win he clearly deserved, Balboa basically returns to step one and struggles with the throws of life outside the ring demonstrating to everyone how impossible it is to escape the throws of circumstance - all until a rematch is finally challenged. This could have easily almost come off as a complete retelling, but Stallone's largely deft direction and some brilliant central performances that bring extra personal layers to the characters actually only serve to make the whole potential win feel even more earned and the stakes far higher. As a result, by the time you get to the inevitable third act, you'll be thoroughly invested in Rocky and on the edge of your seat perhaps even more than in the first movie. That's magnified again by the surprisingly improved standard of the sporting-sequences execution, and in the end you've got yourself a worthy sequel that's as engaging and tragic as - though eventually more uplifting than - its classic predecessor.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: A few plot devices such as the way the film gets Rocky to agree to a rematch do feel a little mechanical, and there is the occasional moment where Stallone's lack of directorial experience shows with the odd clumsy edit to take you out of the experience momentarily.
VERDICT: A film that tells a similar story to its predecessor but with a more uplifting ending, 'Rocky II,' is a worthy sequel where the third act stakes are as high as they could possibly be and when you'll no doubt be thoroughly gripped from start to finish.