Rocky Balboa is a kind of nostalgic trip down memory lane for Sylvester Stallone. It is reminiscent of the 1976 evergreen classic Rocky in more ways than one and by Stallone’s own admission, it is the final movie in the long-running Rocky series which apparently overstayed its welcome with movies Rocky III, IV and V.
I first saw the original 1976 Rocky a few years ago and being a fan of uplifting motion pictures, I loved it. The story of a relative unknown in Rocky Balboa being given a shot at becoming world-champion by holder Apollo Creed and lasting 15 rounds and almost winning the match is still as inspiring as ever. Of course, the movie is now heralded as a classic by everyone alike and if you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you do right away.
I decided to stay away from sequels Rocky III, IV and V when I heard they were nothing like Rocky and Rocky II. So, why make a sequel for a long-forgotten series 16 years after the last one was universally regarded as a failure and made even hardcore fans detest the series. I tend to think Stallone wanted a proper send off (as was suggested by his reaction to the reception of Rocky V) for the series and the character – one which people will remember for all the right reasons instead of wondering why Stallone did not stop with I and II.
Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) starts with the title character living a lonely life in 2006 following the death of Adrian in 2002. His son, Robert Balboa (Milo Ventimiglia), has distanced himself from Rocky in an effort to make a life of his own instead of forever being in his father’s shadow. Rocky now runs a successful Italian restaurant, Adrian’s, telling tales of his boxing bouts and letting everyday pass by. Paulie (Burt Young) still visits his restaurant from time to time sharing fond memories of Adrian. Rocky comes across Marie (Geraldine Hughes) one day as he casually tours Philadelphia and finds someone in a very similar situation to himself. He befriends Marie and takes her son into his care and even offers her a position in his restaurant.
In the meantime, the current heavyweight champion of the world is Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver). And TV ads are about as to who is the better champion in his prime, Dixon or Balboa. They even go as far as to create a computerized bout between the two to see who wins. Dixon is not at all impressed with people calling Balboa a better fighter who fought through much better opponents and had the tougher bouts.
Rocky, however, cannot stop thinking about Adrian and constantly keeps visiting her grave. He realizes he has to do something he loves to take his mind off his late wife and plans of coming out of retirement and is actually granted a boxing license. Mason Dixon’s manager takes hold of the opportunity and arranges for an exhibition match between Rocky and Dixon which he sees would generate ample money and boost Dixon’s popularity in general. Of course, as is a given in Rocky movies, what follows is a rousing match where winning isn’t everything.
The movie features some of the best acting and writing Stallone has come up with in recent memory. The scene where he tells his son that he should be responsible for making his own life and not put the blame on others is a prime example of this featuring wonderful dialogues and acting. In fact, Stallone’s performance is so good that it makes you wonder why he did not choose to play more performance-oriented roles like this in his career instead of the more adrenaline-fueled action roles which we have come to associate with him. Burt Young returns as Paulie and is solid as ever. Geraldine Hughes and Milo Ventimiglia are the newcomers in Rocky’s family and provide good performances as Marie and Robert. Antonio Tarver’s Mason Dixon does remind one of Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed; however, it is still a decent performance by the actor who is a pro boxer in life.
Rocky Balboa contains more than one nod to the 1976 classic. The scene where Balboa starts training for his final bout could have probably been lifted directly from Rocky had it not been for the fact that both Stallone and his character have aged considerably. Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly - Theme for Rocky” is still as rousing as it was the first time the world heard it in 1976 and you cannot help but sit up and cheer as it plays in the background to Rocky’s latest training sessions. The final battle is also reminiscent of the Rocky vs. Creed match from Rocky.
Overall, Sylvester Stallone has achieved what he set out to do with this movie. As everyone (including Stallone) says a final goodbye to The Italian Stallion, Stallone has made sure that Rocky’s character remains firmly etched in our hearts. Rocky Balboa will evoke wonderful images of the path that the title character has taken from 1976 to 2006 and serves as a fitting send off to one of cinema’s most loved heroes.