Years after retiring from professional boxing, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is challenged by the reigning heavyweight champion, Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon (Antonio Tarver), when a virtual fight predicts Rocky would win in a match between the two.
Rocky V had a good premise and some good ideas but it didn’t quite work in portraying a retiring Rocky Balboa. For a while, it seemed like this disappointing entry is how the Rocky series would end. Then sixteen years later, Rocky Balboa comes along and gives the series the conclusion it deserves.
One of the things I felt Rocky V did well was build the relationship between Rocky and his son. Rocky Balboa builds on this and explores what it was like for Rocky, Jr., who goes by “Robert,” to grow up with a famous father and to be in Rocky’s shadow. I like Robert’s arc from how he acts towards Rocky in the beginning of the film to where they end the film. It can be called cliched but it works. If it’s not broke and all that.
The movie begins with Rocky visiting many places that were important to him and Adrian. This leads to a stroll down memory lane for not only Rocky but fans of the series as well. There are good explanations as to why each place is important for those who may not have seen the first movie. However, for those who have been with the characters since the first movie, it’s an emotional journey and a fantastic way to kick off the film. As the film continues, there are many other homages and references to previous films, particularly Rocky. They never feel forced or shoe-horned into the story. This film is a perfect example of how to give fan service while still being able to appeal to new viewers.
From the beginning, I could already tell Rocky Balboa was going to be stronger than the later Rocky movies because the first ten minutes had more emotion than Rocky V had in the entire film. The feels train never stopped after that. There were times I got teary-eyed, there were times I laughed, there were even times I cheered. It truly is impressive how many emotions I experienced while watching this movie. Part of the emotions came from nostalgia but most of it came from fantastic writing. After being involved with these characters for thirty years, Sylvester Stallone knows them well and injects each of them with a lot of character and heart.
Maybe I’ve just missed it in the previous five movies, but Rocky has some pretty fun banter. Whether he is talking to Paulie, his son, or any of his many restaurant customers, he seemed to make me smile or chuckle with his stories or bad jokes or sound life advice.
If you have read my reviews for the other Rocky movies, I always talked about the boxing matches and how I wish there were more. Over the course of watching the entire series, I have come to appreciate the films as a character study rather than a sports movie. Where I thought the previous films needed a better balance between Rocky inside and outside the ring, Rocky Balboa knows what is right. Even though it has the least amount of actual boxing in the whole series, it still feels like it’s the right amount.
These films are all about Rocky and his huge heart and Rocky Balboa knows that. Its blend of complex characters and huge emotional beats creates a brilliant and worthy end to the Rocky series. Rarely does a film have such a vast array of emotions the way Rocky Balboa does. Although there are many reasons to love this film, that reason alone is why this is my favorite in the series.
Marie: You know, tomorrow you’re going to prove the last thing to age on somebody is their heart.
Cast & Crew
Sylvester Stallone – Director / Writer
Bill Conti – Composer
Sylvester Stallone – Rocky Balboa
Burt Young – Paulie
Antonio Tarver – Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon
Geraldine Hughes – Marie
Milo Ventimiglia – Robert Balboa, Jr.
Tony Burton – Duke
James Francis Kelly III – Steps
AJ Benza – LC