Vinod Shankar’s review published on Letterboxd:
For years, I've had a bit of a block about Rocky. I'm not interested in boxing at all, nor am I particularly into Stallone. I don't mind sports movies too much, but I do think they rely on the inherent drama in sport or competition as a shortcut to having drama in the film itself. It becomes too easy, a sort of crutch.
So, I'll begin that I didn't totally get over my biases today, but I definitely did appreciate Rocky more than I expected.
One thing that bugged me is I found the emotion to be overly explicit, and not at all subtle, which to me is a big weakness for the film.
Also, the framing of the film was such that I never particularly felt like Rocky was an underdog. Oh sure, the difference in experience/fame from Creed told me he was one, but as a viewer, what I saw was his hard training, and in the ring, it seemed pretty close to me. So the film didn't feel quite as triumphant to me as maybe its feel-good rep says it is, and I was expecting. (I try not to judge a movie against 'expectations' though, but just noting.)
On the more positive side, I quite liked the naturalistic direction and realistic dialogue, which made it feel like an early prototype of a mumblecore movie. I enjoyed that sense of realism here. And I thought the romance side of it was nicely done, and also realistic.
Overall, Rocky cleverly avoided being too "Hollywood," with overly manufactured moments/drama, which certainly makes it unique in the world of sports movies.