I just got done jawing about sports with my friends at a local Coney Island.
Usually, if a film's horrible, we end up jawing about how horrible the film was. So, you can bet that unless you're a full-on film director or screenwriter, plunking some money to see Rocky Balboa will, in fact, not be a waste of your time. I know I was shocked. I had suspicion from day one about this film. I get more skeptical by the year. This one sucker-punched me with awesome.
In case you have no clue who Rocky Balboa is, here's the quick version. Rocky is a fictional heavyweight-class boxer from Philadelphia who rose from obscurity to become one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport.
1. a person who is expected to lose in a contest or conflict. 2. a victim of social or political injustice: The underdogs were beginning to organize their protests.
In professional and amateur sport, rarely do I see an actual underdog beat the odds. To me, an underdog would be a CFL, Arena, NFL Europe, or NCAA football club against a championship-caliber NFL club. More often than not, I see underrated teams compete against overrated teams.
Underdogs in fiction and real life, to me, are much more appealing.
Rocky Balboa, to me, was a classic underdog in the first of the six films. After he proved his might, he slowly became consistently underrated. Over the saga, demonstrations of Rocky's stamina, toughness, and devastating left hook ranked him among the all-time greats. By the end of his career, Rocky became renowned as one of the best in his sport. He was the classic peoples' champion.
Rocky Balboa is a return of Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) to underdog status.
At this point in his life, he's approximately 60 years of age, running a restaurant, finished with boxing, and living in a modest home in downtown Philadelphia. Adrian (Talia Shire), his wife, is deceased. His son, Rocky Junior (Milo Ventimiglia), is a young adult, working a corporate job. Paulie (Burt Young), Rocky's brother-in-law, is still around, and the two of them spend a lengthy portion of the earlier part of the film with trips down memory lane.
The prior establishment of Rocky's possible brain damage in Rocky V is about the only point that is washed away for the sixth film. In this film, Rocky's retired, but when he passes physical exam and regains license, it is clear that previous concerns of brain damage were not true. Physical complications from age are his only major drawbacks, and even that's not much of a weakness for Rocky.
Meanwhile, a current champion by the name of Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver) reigns supreme in professional boxing. People don't care for boxing like they once did, and Dixon is clearly not beloved by the people. They view Dixon as a lesser champion in a sport of diminished quality with a perfect record filled off victories over numerous weaker opponents.
My friend Jim noted that he thought the first act was rather long at about 40 minutes. The film, like the rest, spends a large block of time in focus on Rocky. I guess that while the construction of the screenplay may be long for opening act, few regular movie-goers should mind. Every Rocky film mainly centers around the mythical legendary fighter.
There are, however, two main plots at play with Rocky and Dixon.
Rocky realizes that he's been living far too much of his retirement with his mind set upon the past. He would like a return to fighting, and he would hope the return to fighting would help return a firm focus on the present. He sees this return as a possible road to increased happiness.
Mason Dixon realizes that he has almost everything he ever wanted. He's the professional heavyweight champion, he has the perfect boxing record, and he has wealth beyond his wildest dreams. He lacks respect among the people, who see him as a weak champion with little heart. He wants that respect. He sees this respect as necessary to his legacy.
A sports station orchestrates an all-time boxing debate. In this discussion of the greats, Rocky Balboa and Mason Dixon are paired for a virtual fight done with a computer simulation. In the simulation, Rocky wins, and the panel of sports opinions also agree in majority that Rocky in his prime would defeat Mason.
It is this debate which sparks the road for Mason Dixon and Rocky Balboa to meet in an exhibition match in Las Vegas.
Various sub-plots emerge. Marie (Geraldine Hughes) becomes a love interest for Rocky. He spends time with Marie and her son, Steps (James Francis Kelly III), to the point where they become part of his inside circle. Rocky's son struggles with losing his own way. In a notable confrontation, Rocky Junior approaches his father with great personal concern regarding the exhibition fight with Dixon. Junior expresses his struggles with living in Rocky's shadow, to which Rocky gives him a rather stirring monologue. The sub-plots in this film do not have great detail and are largely resolved with as much simplicity as possible in order to preserve the focus on Balboa's character.
There was a rumor of Rocky's death. That rumor is not true. The rumor stems from the ending to an early screenplay for Rocky V. Stallone chose to re-write that ending and avoid Rocky's death. That decision proved wise, since the series ends better with this latest installment. The ending almost leads me to feel enough of an openness to another installment, but I feel that would be unwise.
QUESTION: What motivated you to bring back Rocky for a final chapter?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: I just didn't like the way the last one ended. Truthfully I thought the last one it, it just wasn't over, you know, you think it's over, and you really go back and you rehash it in your own mind like an athlete. You go, "God, you know, maybe I just retired too soon. Maybe Rocky just retired too soon." And yeah, someone told him he had problems. He had health problems. He, he had a little brain damage, but he never even had a second opinion. He just automatically assumed it. We do have our ups and downs, and it was a down side of his life. But I think that the real affirmation of life is what comes after that? Do you come out of that valley or not, you know?
In my opinion, I loved the first, liked the second, began to cringe at poor scenes from the third and fourth, and cringed a bunch at the fifth. The fourth is particularly dated to the USA/USSR Cold War era. The fifth does feel rather uninspired and detaches itself from the enjoyable formula which ends with Rocky in the ring. The sixth puts the best bookend to the series.
Overall, Rocky Balboa plays much like the original. That formula worked well for Stallone. None of the films past Rocky are necessary, but fans of the series will likely walk away as surprised and entertained as I was. Rocky Balboa remains largely absent of stinker scenes. No scene, to me, stood out as unforgivable. Rocky's character is given plenty of time to re-establish himself as the man that many people fell in love with from previous installments. From the moment that Dixon's promoters enter Rocky's restaurant, the film propels to the classic culmination of the exhibition fight.
I foresee the possibility that Rocky Balboa may hold some dated nature, especially if professional boxing enjoys a renaissance. Minor allusions to ESPN and the current state of boxing may fall as dated as the scene in which a toy robot makes an appearance in Rocky's mansion in an earlier installment.
Audience members in their middle age may also walk away with great value from this Balboa through identification. Rocky's character reflects similar thoughts, words, views, hopes, trappings, and actions that I've observed from the character's current age bracket.