When Sylvester Stallone first announced he was going to bring back the Italian Stallion for another round many a sigh was uttered. Rocky V, while not the best film in the franchise was still a fitting finale to the series, and the fact that it has been 16 years since the last film (making Stallone 60 years old) did not make things any easier. But we were all was wrong. Dead wrong.
Rocky Balboa sees the aging southpaw still living in his house in Philadelphia. Long retired from the sport of boxing, Rocky is now widowed and alone after his beloved wife Adrian (played in previous films by Talia Shire) passed away a few years previously due to cancer, while his relationship with his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) is fragile to say the least and his only real relationship is with brother-in-law Paulie (Bury Young).
When ESPN host a simulated computer fight between Rocky and the current undefeated yet disrespected champion Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), many take notice which Rocky wins by knockout. This awakens Rocky from his grief and he decides to come out of retirement and box again, accepting a challenge from Dixon only to face a public backlash and the ire of his son, as once again the underdog must go against the odds and unleash the beast that has built up inside of him.
A compelling and emotionally touching film that reminds of the first two Rocky movies, Rocky Balboa is an excellent finale which shows just how good an actor Sylvester Stallone is when given the right material.
Having played the character five times before Stallone doesn’t phone in his performance as he gives Rocky a depth we haven’t seen before thanks to his great script which contains some excellent monologues, with Rocky’s breakdown in front of Paulie and confrontation with his son two of the better scenes so far this year.
With Stallone himself getting older you can’t help but feel this movie is more than autobiographical. Indeed this is a man exorcising his demons on screen through his alter ego as Stallone does not shy away from the main issues that have drawn criticism from all corners, with the biggest issue of his age being met head on with both humor and sincerity.
Burt Young is great as Paulie, firing away the often humorous one liner’s with ease, while Milo Ventimiglia is a vast improvement when compared to Sage Stallone. Geraldine Hughes absolutely shines as Marie, a new female character in the Rocky world who Stallone wisely decided not to make a love interest.
The only flaw casting wise lies with Antonio Tarver who not only doesn’t have the intimidating presence needed to strike fear in the hearts of the audience (much like Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago), but also lacks character.
Direction wise Stallone is on top of his game. Granted there are pacing problems (especially at the start of the film) but once the Rocky theme hits and training montage begins it is pure bliss.
The best scene has to be the excellent boxing match between Balboa and Dixon. Starting off as your average HBO covered fight, Stallone creates an emotionally charged slug fest complete with slow motion, black and white color palates mixed with crimson red ala Sin City, images of Adrian and Rocky’s former trainer Mickey giving encouragement from the grave and Bill Conti’s excellent, driving score.
Rocky Balboa is an example of inspirational film making which grabs you by the heart and does not let go. Cheers to Sylvester Stallone for the ultimate send off and making it all worth while.