This is a masterpiece of a sequel. And for the sixth entry in the series, that is really saying something. Sly, you’ve done it! The big guy goes out fighting. Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!
Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver, James Francis Kelly III, Geraldine Hughes, Tony Burton
Let’s admit it, Rocky has been giving it a good slug for years now, but his last cinematic bout, “Rocky 5” – still remember seeing it at an empty-theatre on opening day in 1990; pretty sad state of affairs for a series that started out on such a high – was anything but a knockout. Now, with the long-proposed “Rocky Balboa”, Sylvester Stallone finally gives us a match worth watching. It’s so good in fact; you’ll wish cinemas had installed TiVo into the seats.
“Rocky Balboa” could’ve easily ended up like any of the other “Rocky” sequels – and you can’t blame the public’s scepticism; the character had become somewhat of an overblown superhero – but there’s one thing that stopped it from becoming so: Sylvester Stallone. Yep, Stallone’s like a fine wine it seems, he’s gotten better with age – and wise enough to know that you don’t let a studio exec come two-feet within a movie set these days.
As the titular character announces in the film “There’s still some old junk in the basement”, Sly felt the series ended on a low (with the piss-poor “Rocky 5”), and wanted to give fans a movie that would again – like the Oscar Winning role – touch their hearts again, not just have them laughing into their popcorn as a small Italian man pummels a 7-foot opponent with ease (ah, “Rocky IV: More cheesier than Lasagne”). After several years of pitching his “Rocky 6” to every studio and producer in town, Stallone finally got his movie made. Scratch that, Stallone finally got ‘our’ movie made.
The world is a different place now than what it was when the first “Rocky” came out – and Sly makes note of that in his pic. The former Heavyweight Champion of the World is now all alone – his beloved Adrian, we discover, died a few years before; and his son, Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), has an, er, ‘Rocky’, relationship with his mega-famous Dad – except for the people he spends his nights talking to at the restaurant he runs in South Philadelphia; and brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young, returning for his sixth “Rocky” film).
Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is the reigning heavyweight champion distinguished only by the ease with which he took the title. Since he has never had to prove himself, never faced a truly equal opponent, he is considered by fans to be all skill and no heart, with no real future in the sport… Until a computer simulation matches him against Rocky Balboa in his prime.
The “cartoon fight” (as Paulie amusingly calls it) gets Rocky thinking though: What if this is the second chance he never thought he’d get — a billion-to-one shot to prove to himself and to those he loves that while the body changes, the heart only grows stronger.
With the help of rediscovered pal, ‘Little’ Marie (Geraldine Hughes, reprising a role made famous by Jodie Letitizia in the first film – remember, she was the girl who yelled out ‘Screw you, Creep!’ to Rocky) and her teenage son Steps (James Francis Kelly III), his son Robert, Paulie, and Apollo Creed’s ex-trainer, Duke (Tony Burton), Rocky rediscovers the montage – and some “hurting bombs”.
As reviewers, we’re not taught to talk in the ‘first person’ – but I think this calls for a temporary desertion of the journalistic system. I was truly astonished by this film. Stallone has returned the series to its roots – writing a credible, realistic story of a very likeable loser who wins you over with his golden heart and golden gloves. For the first time since the first film, we ‘feel’ for the character again… so much so that you’ll be standing in the aisles, cheering him on, and at other times, near at waterworks stage because of just how darn inspiring it is. And though the storyline may seem a little cheesy to same – I mean, 60 year-old-guy in a major boxing match? – but it ain’t that far from reality : Just a few short years ago, George Foreman did the same thing. With his rock-hard body and well-versed fighting style, I believed every minute that Rocky was ‘in’ this fight.
The fact that Stallone knows this character so well is what aids in the film’s efficacy. It’s not even the scenes in the ring that are the best, but more so, some of the more emotional scenes – like the sequences between Rocky and his estranged son, Robert (Ventimiglia).
“It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it”, Rocky tells his mixed-up son, who feels like he’s living in his larger-than-life dad’s shadow. “You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!”
I tell ya, the writing is sensational. He knows how to wrangle an emotion, that’s for sure. There’s a moment where Rocky breaks down in the meat factory that is truly gut wrenching. Hard to believe this is the same guy who starred in “D-Tox” and “Avenging Angelo” just a couple of years back.
Stallone, who also served as the films director, has penned a movie to be proud of. It’s nostalgic – there’s a lot of references to the first film; including a scene of Rocky and Paulie taking a tour of the some of the memorable locations from the original; it’s touching – Stallone pulls back on the cheese, and instead lets a lot of the expressions just do the talking; The performances are terrific – this is the best I’ve seen Stallone in many, many years, and the supporting cast (particularly Burt Young as the always amusing Paulie, and Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Rocky’s son, Robert) are top-notch – even though Dixon, the opponent, seems a bit cardboard at times; and that final fight sequence is shot proficiently well – again the credit of Stallone, who has as good an eye as he does a left hook.
This is a masterpiece of a sequel. And for the sixth entry in the series, that is really saying something. Sly, you’ve done it! The big guy goes out fighting.
Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!
Reviewer : Clint Morris