Rocky Balboa Delivers a Convincing and Heartwarming Final Fight
by Alex Billington
December 19, 2006
The unforgettable boxing hero Rocky Balboa comes back from retirement swinging in full force. This sixth and final installment in the 30-year-long Rocky series gives the Italian Stallion a triumphant and deserved exit from an incredible career. For even those who've never seen Rocky II through V, Rocky Balboa gives a warm welcome to the depth and heart of the Rocky character and takes you on a wonderful journey through his last fight.
After retiring from the boxing world and continuing to mourn his wife Adrian's death year after year, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has been living his humble life alone, struggling with his own troubled son (Milo Ventimiglia), and working at his restaurant every night appeasing the patrons. He randomly encounters a childhood acquaintance he nicknamed "little Marie" (Geraldine Hughes) when they used to walk home together, and strikes up a friendship with Marie and her son Steps (James Francis Kelly III). A virtual computer fight is broadcast on TV that pits Rocky against the reckless reigning champion Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver, who has held four different light heavyweight boxing titles on six separate occasions). Inspired by the simulated bout, which Rocky wins, Rocky decides to challenge Dixon in real life for the final fight of his life. Dixon, whose reckless behavior has jeopardized his own legacy, accepts the challenge.
Stallone knows this character inside and out. To direct, write, and act in a lead role in the same film is a momentous feat, and Stallone pulls it off much more passionately and vibrantly than any of the past few Rocky films. Initially the film breaks down into long melodramatic scenes that are overly clichÃ© but which fill out Rocky's long history both as a character in his fictional Philadelphia home and as an American folk hero. Many of the "rounds" that lead up to the final fight are the most endearing and powerful storytelling scenes in a drama this year. Stallone has written the lines that perfectly define this character and he portrays the role with a subtlety and finesse that only few other actors have ever been able to duplicate.
Rocky Balboa has been derided as a derivative sequel since its initial announcement, especially because 1990's Rocky V was so poorly received. Balboa is a very positive reintroduction to an unforgettable film hero, a suitable companion to the pleasant surprise of "reboot" movies of late (Batman Begins, Casino Royale). The greatest wisdom comes solely from the physically- and mentally-beaten boxer. It's filled with great comedic lines that may be slightly corny, but they garner chuckles from everyone. It will rebuild your appreciation for Rocky to then root for him all the way through to his prolific end. This is the kind of crafting in a film that a lot of others coming from Hollywood are just missing.
The only problem with Balboa, which keeps it from being a truly excellent film, was its fight scene. The story fell apart just as a boxer (who's not as powerful as Rocky) does in the 10th round: sweat flying off, the world seemingly moving in a dizzying slow-motion. This editing was so bad it pulled away from everything the film had built up and ruined what would've been a great boxing match if I had just been allowed to see it. You might even want to leave right as the boxing match starts, as it is grueling to watch a boxing movie with such an anticlimactic boxing scene. The whole film took a dive in the ending and ruined what it had going. It redeems itself only partially in the last few moments. Overall I consider Rocky Balboa to be a great film as Rocky's legacy will be fondly remembered forever, and Stallone offers plenty of enjoyable moments in this send-off to his most beloved character.
The moment you hear the Rocky theme song your heart starts racing and you'll stand up from your seat and cheer with the rest of the audience. This doesn't happen often, and will likely never happen again - it's a definite theater-going experience that you can only find while seeing Rocky Balboa. Although the end almost ruins most of what was being built, the previous three-fourths of the film is an intensely enjoyable and exciting drama - enough to restore anything the final boxing match destroys. Rocky does make his triumphant exit and will leave a lasting impression on the world.