Rocky Balboa review by Rosie

Rocky Balboa

Interviewer: Will you retire after this for sure?
Rocky Balboa: Oh yeah, this is the last one for sure. After this, me and Mick are definitely done.
- Rocky III, 1982

Twenty-five years after making this definitive declaration, the people’s champ is back to prove once again that he is a dirty, rotten liar as he gears up for this, his third sanctioned fight since promising to go away. That fact notwithstanding, I find myself deeply torn over whether or not to admit that he did the right thing coming back this time. As much as I don’t want to reward him and encourage this sort of continuing nonsense, Rocky Balboa is a film that seemed completely unnecessary in speculation and proved to be absolutely essential in hindsight.

When we catch up with Rock (Sylvester Stallone, in case you are one minute old and didn’t know that yet) in Rocky Balboa, we find him drifting aimlessly through his days, trying to find some meaning and direction in his life after the death of his wife Adrian. **Spoiler Alert** (I probably should have put that before mentioning that Adrian died. Sorry.) He tries to keep himself busy with the mundane, visiting Adrian at the cemetery, talking to his birds, playing the part of himself for businessmen and boxing fans at a little restaurant he owns – chatting them up with old war stories and posing with him for sucker-punch pictures (think an aging Jake LaMotta, only in better shape and less self-destructive). Still, Rocky is finding it harder and harder to make sense of this new phase of his life and reaches out to whoever he can find still around him for something to hold onto. When it becomes clear that his son, Robert Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), is more interested in distancing himself from his father’s shadow than coming back towards it, Rocky sinks further into a depression that leads him to take comfort in helping a neighborhood bartender, Marie (Geraldine Hughes), and her son, “Steps” (James Francis Kelly III), get back on their feet. Still, the anger pent up inside him from Adrian’s death and the sight of his old neighborhood falling apart around him continue to occasionally overwhelm him, so when the opportunity arises for an exhibition match with the reigning heavyweight champ Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) comes to him, Rock sees his chance to step back into the one place in the world that still makes sense to him and try to just let go of all of it for good.

Despite the neck-snapping, sweat-splatting action and drooling dialogue that the Rocky franchise has come to be known for in the last few installments, Stallone actually does a good job of getting back to the heart of the character that first launched the franchise and propelled himself to stardom over thirty years ago. More than anything, this film is ultimately about relationships and finding closure for the characters. It’s about the maturation of the brotherly relationship between Paulie (Burt Young) and Rocky, the fixing of the father-son relationship between Robert Jr. and Rocky, establishment of a father figure relationship between “Steps” and Rocky, the mutual recovery of hope between Marie and Rocky, some closure for Rocky’s relationship with Adrian and the past, and a chance for a mutual salute between Rocky and his fans. There’s also the unfortunate story of the relationship between Max Kellerman and his dignity – which ends in a messy break-up right before our eyes.

Aside from all that, the action was still pretty good, too. Stallone tries to add a little artistic flair to what feels like one of the longest Rocky fight scenes ever, but that doesn’t stop the goosebumps from rising at the sound of the first few ominous bell tolls of “Gonna Fly Now”, as Rocky digs in for his second wind. The requisite training montage of one guy training in the high-tech gym of the future and one guy training in the stone-paved woodshed never fail to deliver, either. Basically it’s got everything a good Rocky movie should have and, pleasantly, a little more in the character department.

A few random thoughts before getting to the grades:

• Rocky’s entrance to the fight might be the best in the series, and second only to Tobey Maguire’s classic first introduction to the wrestling ring in Spiderman 1 for comedic value.

• For a guy that’s supposed to be battling depression, Rocky is as charming and witty as we’ve ever seen him. An odd conflict of circumstance, but somehow it works.

• Max Kellerman may look the most transparently starstruck in every scene, but Skip Bayless probably has the worst single cameo line in movie history. I almost had to turn away in embarrassment for him.

• Why doesn’t ESPN really do those “Then vs. Now” segments (which I completely did not explain anywhere in this review, but you’ll understand when you see it). You know they’ve got the technology, and it’s no sillier than that “Who’s Now?” garbage.

• It’s a tough one to pull off, but somehow Apollo/Rocky’s longstanding cornerman Duke (Tony Burton) seems to be getting tougher and stronger, well down the back side of 60, than ever before.

• Rocky’s philosophical musings about taking control of the fate of his own career and legacy come across as a thinly-veiled apology, directly from Stallone to the audience, about Rocky V and his own personal determination to try to fix the ending of the franchise with this movie no matter what anyone thinks. I have to say, I kind of appreciated it.

• Am I the only one who didn’t know his son’s name was “Robert Jr.”? Or for that matter that Rocky’s real name must be “Robert”? Would this franchise have ever gotten off the ground if we all knew we were watching “Bobby Balboa” all these years?

Like I said, Rocky Balboa is a film that many Rocky fans may have initially felt torn about being made, but will absolutely appreciate having now. It provides a truly satisfying feeling of closure that the franchise so desperately needed.

That being said, why would I not be surprised if Rocky 7 brings Balboa back to fight Chuck Liddell and save the sport of boxing from the rising tide of MMA …. Don’t even think about it, Sly, it’s a bad idea. Why? "Because you can't win Rock! This guy will kill you to death in three rounds!"

(RIP - B.M.)

8 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus