Rocky Balboa

Let’s do something here. Let’s pretend that Rocky V didn’t even happen. It doesn’t even exist. Because if that were the case, Rocky Balboa is the perfect way to end the Rocky franchise. Even with the fifth movie being a blunted reality, it’s still a great way to end the franchise. There was only one really great film and that was the first one. The second film was more about telling this long drawn out story and giving the Rocky character something of value (his family, his son, his pride, his championship). And the third and fourth films were just about conquering the unconquerable and not giving into fear. What the heck was Rocky V about? Well, it’s the same idea as what Rocky Balboa is about. It’s just that at the time in 1990, Sly didn’t have the testicular fortitude that he has today, to pull off what he did with this film. They are similar in what they are trying to prove, which is that it’s not about how many times you get knocked down. What really matters is how many times you get back up. Where Rocky V lacked the most was in Rocky actually getting back in the ring. In storyline, he lost his house and some money and had to go back to the streets of Philadelphia to live with the common folk. But he still had his family. He still had his friends. What did he really lose? In Rocky Balboa, he loses the one thing that literally drops him like a Mike Tyson right hand. He loses Adrian.

Talia Shire’s Adrian isn’t in the movie except in pictures and flashbacks, but the movie is entirely about her. It’s about her death, and how learning to deal with it will make Rocky complete. He tried to move on, even opening up a restaurant in her name, but he didn’t understand how to emote for her. He didn’t understand why he had all the unkempt feelings about her inside of him. He was a boxer, used to emoting through his fists and his body. And in order for him to become complete with Adrian’s death, he had to do it through the only way he knew. Fighters fight.

Stallone seemed to have forgotten how to play Balboa by the fourth and fifth movies. He played him like an idiot really. Here, he goes back to how he played him in the original Rocky. Stallone has mentioned recently that if the original Rocky never had any sequels, this could be the second movie and it’s so complete, that you don’t even need the ones in between. To an extent, he’s right. But only if we pretend Rocky V never happened.

rocky-balboa-movie-poster-2006-1010397103Rocky Balboa is created as if Rocky V was never created. Stallone has gone on record saying how disappointed he was in that film and how he wasn’t mature enough to give Rocky the proper send off in 1990. In the fifth film, the back story is that Rocky can’t fight anymore. He has major head trauma and couldn’t get sanctioned because of it. In Rocky Balboa, the boxing commission decides to give him a license after he lobbies for one and this even after his 50th birthday. It’s a slap in the face to fans, but after the Rocky V debacle, Stallone had to get this one finished in the ring. He also replaces the actor who played his son in Rocky V, being his real life son, Sage Stallone with Milo Ventimiglia. It’s definitely an upgrade as Sage helped ruin Rocky V, but Robert (Rocky Jr.) Balboa pretty much stays in the background, though is needed for a few of the scenes in which Rocky declares his need to get back in the ring and also helps him get finality.

Paulie, played by Burt Young is back and he’s the same old wise cracking Paulie that you know and love. Geraldine Hughes plays Lil’ Marie who was a character from the first film. Rocky at the time saw her hanging with a bad group of kids and told her that she needed to worry about her reputation and hang with good people, or else she’d turn into the people she hangs with. After seemingly understanding, she turns to Rocky and says, “Screw you creepo!” It was a defining scene in the film because even when Rocky did good, it wasn’t good enough and he felt like a nobody, which was the basis for the original film.

(In a weird twist of fate, the Lil’ Marie character was actually brought back in Rocky V, played by the original actress. But she was left on the cutting room floor and was never seen in the theatrical cut of the film. If she was left in, Rocky Balboa couldn’t happen the way Stallone wrote it.)

Hughes gives you a watered down version of Adrian. She’s not there to be Adrian, but to just give Rocky a little nudge while people are telling him he’s crazy for getting back in the ring. Hughes plays the role subtle enough to where she doesn’t step on the role Shire created and works as a really solid secondary character. In an odd storyline sequence, Rocky sees her son as a way to help her, almost as if he has to repay her for not getting through to her in the first film when she was a kid.

The actual reasoning for him getting the chance to get back in the ring is a bit hokey and probably not the best thing that could’ve been written. But back when Muhammed Ali was suspended from boxing because of his stance on not joining the war, he did something with Rocky Marciano which was a computer simulation of what would’ve happened if they both fought in their primes. It didn’t work when they did it, but according to boxing lore, Ali needed the money. Stallone uses that boxing trivia fact to get Rocky back in the ring. Mason “The Line” Dixon played by real life championship fighter Antonio Tarver Jr. (who probably lost his championship directly based on this film because he had to diet down so quickly for his fight with Bernard Hopkins as his character in Rocky had him about 20 pounds over his fighting weight) loses a computer simulated fight against Balboa’s character and is dogged by the media as being a paper champion. His managers try to get him some good will by getting him to box in an exhibition (and we remember how exhibitions can turn out, Apollo died in one) with Balboa. Oddly, this is actually agreed to and happens. In 2006, you could say this would never happen, but Mike Tyson actually held a session recently on PPV, but no one saw it. That’s the premise for holding the fight, but really, it’s secondary.

What’s crazy about standing toe to toe and saying, “I am”?

In order for Rocky to come to grips with his life and to stop trying to live in the past, he has to show it to himself for one last time that he can say, “I am”.

One last thing that actually helps this movie drive home the feeling that you got from the first film is that Bill Conti’s score is excellent. His music is given such importance in the film and it’s near deja vu because of how important his score was to the first film.

There are many things in this film that make you shake your head, but in the end, you are still able to suspend disbelief. Stallone throws in some goodies that fans of all the movies will enjoy. This is the second best film of the six and finally, you can get the bad taste out of your mouth that was Rocky V, and remember the series fondly.

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