And with this, it ends. The greatest stories that have cumulative parts ... well ... they don't tend to do well after the third one. Basically any horror franchise proves that. But the Rocky series has defied the odds. But does this newest one, 16 years removed from what as a pretty good finale, does it hold up and do a good job as a new epilogue to a series that had told its final story an entire teenager ago?
Rocky Balboa is the perfect combination of heart-breaking and meandering, thrilling and lackluster, necessary and ... well, unnecessary. Plot: Rocky owns a restaurant, Adrian's. Paulie and he are the only family they got, because Rocky Jr. (Robert), played by that guy who wasn't quite good enough in Heroes, has his own big city life. Adrian has died three years ago, and Rocky hasn't been able to move on. In the boxing world, the current heavyweight champ, Mason Dixon, has not had any real threat or difficulty, and some believe that he just isn't that good because of that. So his managers work to get him and Rocky into one last fight.
I'm going to go through my three little statements above to collect my thoughts here for this flick:
1) Heart-breaking and Meandering
The Rocky films, with Rocky IV as the big let down though it did touch on it, have always been about Rocky and Adrian's love story. And taking that story, and removing Adrian from it, is perfect. It brings forth so much emotion, and the film is so wonderfully crafted for that emotion, that I was crying in the first ten minutes. It was easily some of the best most emotional work Stallone has done in these films. And Burt Young, who I have not talked about much other than the fact that Paulie is a character you hate and you love him anyway because Rocky loves him, Burt Young just knocks it out of the park. Not only that, but the emotion Rocky has dealing with his son, who feels stuck in Rocky's shadow, is also really well done.
All that said, the movie doesn't really focus on that stuff. It is really about the Mason Dixon stuff, and Rocky meeting up with colorful new characters Marie - a small role from the first film, now grown up and a new semi-love interest - and her son Steps. Steps is a bad actor, and really is just an odd addition to this script. We spend so much time with him, he is even in Rocky's corner for the match, and we really know nothing about him. I'm fine with Marie, though she ultimately doesn't matter because Rocky isn't ready for any kind of relationship, so nothing really happens there either. The movie just plods along through these scenes that are ultimately pointless with these characters.
2) Thrilling and Lackluster
Seeing Stallone, who is just as old as Rocky, just as beat up as Rocky, going back through the training, seeing Burt Young, seeing poor black guy coach who after all six films I've never been able to catch his name, all showing their age but still working, it is all really cool and heartpounding and exciting. The build up to the match, with the press conference and all of Mason's guys talking with him about Rocky. The use of our current style media to create all the excitement with a "Deadliest Warriors" style "cartoon fight" as Paulie puts it of Rocky v. Mason ... all of that gets the blood boiling and ready!
No reason for this beyond saying "Warriors" earlier. I should really review this one soon, too.
3) Necessary and Unnecessary
Why was this film necessary? Because the Rocky story will never die. He is a character that we've watched throughout all the important points of his life. And seeing a new point is great. Coming back to the character is wonderful. Rocky is a huge part of our culture, and coming back to him was a great idea. Not only that, but being able to see the emotion behind Rocky and Paulie for Adrian in a way they could never express while she was alive ... that was amazing.
Why was this film unnecessary? Because it doesn't matter. The plot doesn't matter, the characters they added don't matter, the fight didn't matter, and beyond the really great emotional scenes, nothing else mattered. We are told super early in the movie that Rocky is healthy to fight, even though he has had TWO films where his health was the major concern and reason why he shouldn't. But hey, brain damage that they say in 1990 will never heal apparently will in 16 years.
This movie is just filled with ups and downs. The ups are just really really great. The downs, which are more frequent, are just blah. Nothing is really BAD. Nothing is terrible. But the movie is basically a big ole resounding "meh" with a few really high spots. If I could grade those high spots alone, if I could edit Rocky Balboa into just a short film about the emotions that Rocky and Paulie were going through, and a little bit of healing with talking to Marie, it would be great. A+ material. The Rocky films were never really about the boxing. They were about the characters. The boxing was just the backdrop for the drama. Four of these films got that completely right. Two failed, one hilariously, and one boringly. But watch them yourselves! You deserve it.
Rocky Movie Review Bank