- Written and Directed by Sylvester Stallone
- December 20, 2006
Now a small restaurant owner, Rocky is challenged to an exhibition fight by a hotheaded young boxer looking to make a name.
Perhaps one of the better entries in the series, Rocky Balboa is a film that gets back to what Rocky does best: characters. It is much more about what they are going through and the drama involved. Boxing is a way to mine drama and not what the story is about.
There is very little boxing in this movie. And that’s a good thing. Rocky is about emotions and people. It’s not about the fighting. At least not the fighting in the ring. It is about the underdog fighting. Having lost Adrian to cancer, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) has to end his mourning and start to live again. That is part of his fight.
But it is also about Rocky feeling that at this point in his life he still has something left to do. Maybe one more fight in him or just something beyond what he is now. How many of us feel there is more to do? One more thing left on our plate. And this exhibition fight gives him that chance.
As I said it is about Rocky learning to live again. We get a well-developed beginning to a relationship with a woman named Marie (Geraldine Hughes) whom he met 30 years earlier. Though she provides the romantic element of the story, she never gets a last name. I am not saying they needed to drop it constantly but when both met again it could have been slipped in once. Anywho…
Stallone and Hughes craft a very good beginning of a romance between two people nervous to love again. They do not run right into it and then boink. It feels real with Hughes and Stallone having chemistry on the level of Stallone and Shire. I am curious if the Marie character was a rewritten Adrian. Not upset if it was. It works.
I do think they dropped the ball bit on her son Stephenson “Steps” (James Francis Kelly III). I’m not sure if he was introduced to give something more for a potential next film or it was an element to make Rocky look fatherly and parallel what was going on with his son. It had some potential but didn’t amount to much other than giving Rocky an awkward moment where he thought the white kid was Marie’s son and not the mixed-race kid. That was the highlight and did mark how the times were changing and that Rocky was not easily changing with them. A small element.
Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia) wants to be his own man but hasn’t figured out how to do that with the Balboa name attached. Rocky’s long shadow has alienated his son who’s now doing something in an office. I am not sure what and they really do a terrible job of explaining that. However they do a good job of showing how he is feeling under the legacy of his father.
Paulie (Burt Young) is still with Rocky and has morphed into a sad sack that realizes there is not much to his life. He is even expressing regret over treating Adrian like crap and not being better to her. That is a bit of character growth there. You get a good look at Rocky and Paulie’s relationship. You finally get a feel as to why he might be keeping Paulie around. Adrian and their love for her is what has bonded them. Paulie may not have been a good man, but he did love his sister and he knew that she loved him. And that’s what keeps him around Rocky and that’s what keeps Rocky around Paulie.
The story also focuses on aging and moving on in life, but not to the point of forgetting your past. It’s a human story that is concerned with emotions rather than anything else. Boxing is simply a visual demonstration of what the characters are going through. It is a way to show who is right and to obviously demonstrate the point of the film.
Once again, Rocky steps up to the challenge. His success does not come from actually beating Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), but rather stepping up to the challenge. Rocky succeeds by doing his best. And that’s what it’s always been about when these films have been good. Doing your best. Not phoning it in. Win by simply engaging in the challenge.
Rocky is a champion of the people. He is fighting not for glory but rather to show that he still has it. And it’s clear from the get-go that his challenger is fighting for personal glory. He thinks this is another easy fight and Rocky shows the people that winning is not necessarily beating the adversary, but by getting up every time you get knocked down. Stand up to the challenge.
And what is a Rocky film without that music of Bill Conti. The man created absolutely perfect theme music for the Rocky universe. Plenty of film composers have scored good music but few have made perfect music for whatever film they have done. And that’s music that is instantly identified with whatever film it is in to the point that it doesn’t fit with anything else.
The ending belt isn’t bad, but it’s not as strong as the first two Rocky films. But then again, those are hard to top. I think the flaw was Stallone didn’t try to make the match as dramatic as they did there. Stallone leaned into authenticity for it rather than drama. It’s not bad, but it could’ve been so much better.
Ultimately Rocky Balboa is a fantastic addition to the Rocky saga and a great ending to the main story of Rocky despite its flaws. For fans of great drama or even Stallone this is a must see!