“Ain’t nothin’ over ’til it’s over,” says Rocky in what is sure to be his final big screen appearance, and to say Sylvester Stallone has given fans of the franchise a capstone to make us all forget Rocky V ever happened is an understatement. In terms of Rocky films, Rocky Balboa probably fits better if it were to be deemed Rocky III as it goes hand-in-hand with the gritty and determined nature of Rocky I and II. Rocky III and Rocky IV are fantastic pieces of entertainment, but Rocky Balboa brings heart back to the franchise.
A couple of people told me they were surprised this film was any good. Rocky Balboa is no surprise. Sylvester Stallone’s career has had major ups and downs, but Rocky is a role he has embodied and lived for a lifetime. In essence Stallone is Rocky as he gets up off the canvas after the failure that was Rocky V and delivers a knock out blow.
With the world of boxing behind him and his wife, Adrian, lost to cancer Rocky is forced to re-enter the real world. He has a small Italian restaurant and his relationship with his son (Ventimiglia) is ailing. Rocky has no problem finding friends, but finding purpose is another question. After an ESPN computer simulation features Rocky winning against the current heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (Tarver) the beast inside begins to stir and our story begins.
Stallone’s performance may be the best of his career as he delivers heartfelt speech after heartfelt speech in such a way that you can’t help but be inspired. “Heroes” star Milo Ventimiglia, playing Rocky’s son, has a tough time adjusting to the role and often has to be saved by Stallone, but that is just the thing… Stallone saves him.
The absence of Talia Shire as Adrian is a fantastic story arc that gives Rocky Balboa a feeling of its own, whereas it may have felt like a rehash of the past had she been the physical voice in Rocky’s ear. Instead it is her spirit that guides this film, a film that really didn’t even need even five minutes of boxing to be called enjoyable.
The moments between Rocky and his son, his friends, Paulie (Young) and when he is on his own are so telling of what this one-time great fighter is going through, and it is so well told, you can’t help but get into the story. This is really what makes the boxing match at the end of the film feel so out of place. You find yourself just wanting it to end so you can get back to the story.
In a world where we had all forgotten Rocky, Sylvester Stallone did not. This film may not be perfect, but it is about as good as a sixth Rocky film could be, and it is more than enough for me to call it a success and I think any fan of Rocky is sure to agree.