Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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Since it's release in 1976, Rocky has become a touchstone of America cinema at a time when a lot of movies in that era were very serious and talking about politics. The film told the tale of a club boxer from Philadelphia who goes all the way against the heavyweight champion. The film, directed by John G. Avildsen was a smash while making its screenwriter and star Sylvester Stallone into a superstar. Stallone would write and directed the next three films to box office success but after 1990's Rocky V that was directed by Avildsen did disappointing numbers, while Stallone remained a superstar. 30 years since the release of the first film, the movie remains to be a classic in cinema as Sylvester Stallone decides to bring Rocky back one more time for Rocky Balboa.
Written, directed, and starring Stallone in the title role, Rocky Balboa takes place in present time where Rocky now runs a restaurant in his local neighborhood as he is now alone with his only friend Paulie with him while his wife has died and he's become estranged to his son. Then a computer fight on TV that pitted Rocky against a current heavyweight champ got Rocky into returning to boxing despite his old age where the computer fight brought a lot of hype as Rocky is now given another shot at a new champ where he's to prove that he's still got it. Also starring Rocky regulars Burt Young and Tony Burton plus Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes, A.J. Benza, and Antonio Tarver. Rocky Balboa is a thrilling, entertaining film that serves a fitting close to the franchise and a reminder of why people love the Rocky Balboa character.
After another victorious yet disappointing fight, Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is the current heavyweight champion but fighting unworthy opponents has not given him any respect from boxing fans and critics. With Dixon not going forward with his career and his next two pay-per-view matches cancelled, Dixon turns to his old trainer Martin (Henry G. Sanders) for advice. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Rocky Balboa is dealing with his newfound loneliness as his beloved wife Adrian (Talia Shire, in archival footage) died a few years ago. His son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) has become too busy for him as the two rarely see each other. The only person that remains in Rockys life is his friend Paulie (Burt Young) who still works at the meat plant while telling Rocky that it's time to move on as Rocky often dwells into the old places he had fond memories of Adrian that are now rusting away. While not dealing with his memories, Rocky runs a nice little Italian restaurant called Adrian's where he often tells stories to customers while letting an old boxing friend named Spider (Pedro Lovell) eat and work at the place.
While driving around the ruins of South Philadelphia, Rocky returns to an old bar that he used to hang out where he finds that a girl he knew named Marie (Geraldine Hughes) works at the bar. Rocky reconnects with her as he gives her a ride home and is introduced to her teenage son Steps (James Francis Kelly III). With Robert not around, Rocky finds comfort in Steps as they purchase an old dog they named Punchy while Rocky's newfound friendship with Marie gives him reminders of the old days. Then one night on ESPN, the sports world watched a simulated computer fight against Dixon and Balboa in which Balboa won. Dixon's manager L.C. (A.J. Benza) knew that this would hurt his fighter more. Rocky meanwhile, saw the computer fight and after some thinking, he decided to give boxing another go. After talking to Robert about it, Robert isn't sure about the idea of his dad going back in the ring.
Rocky decides to do it but only through small, local fights where he petitions to get a license which he gets after through some tough-talking. When the news that Rocky got a license, L.C. decides to book a fight in Las Vegas as an exhibition where Rocky goes up against the champ. The news got Rocky thinking he might be doing wrong but after Marie persuaded that he should do what he loved, he decides to back to box. With Paulie, Steps, and Apollo Creed's trainer Duke (Tony Burton), Rocky decides to start training while Robert becomes unsure of what's going on only to join in. While the press believes the fight to be a joke considering Rocky's old age, Rocky decides to prove that hes still got something. Despite not having much speed or the energy of young fighters, Rocky goes old-school as he and Dixon get ready to fight to see if Rocky still got it and if Dixon does have what it takes to be a great fighter.
While the first Rocky movie told the classic-underdog story of a boxer going the distance. The Rocky movies afterwards created a formula in which Rocky won but as those films progressed, nothing is really earned. In Rocky Balboa, Stallone figured out what those films did wrong and went back to the classic-underdog formula but through newer ideas and more dramatic territory. There, the film has a sense of nostalgia while does run into elements of sentimentality that will divide some audiences. Still, Stallone going back to the streets to see the realism of his own environment in which, it's not 1976 South Philadelphia. It's 2006 and Stallone is aware of the changes and makes Rocky deal with those changes but he makes sure Rocky isn't the kind of guy that's not going to sit down and cry about everything he's lost. He makes sure Rocky goes out there and put on some hurtin' bombs.
The script is masterfully structured with the first act of Rocky dealing with his loneliness and reconnecting through parts of his past. The second act of him going back to boxing and the third is the events leading to the and the climatic fight. Stallone also brings in some funny, memorable dialogue that has a lot of charm while his directing is more solid than any of the things he's done as a director. Stallone wisely chose a structure where the film in its first half, a drama, and the second half a boxing movie where its balanced nicely. Plus, once that Bill Conti score comes in, the wave of nostalgia and momentum kicks up a notch. Then when the fight's around, it's a moment where the audience, like in the first film, get into the fight and root for Rocky. The result is clearly what Stallone went for and succeeded.
Helping Stallone in his visual presentation is cinematographer J. Clark Mathis does some wonderful photography for some of the film's exterior settings while mixing black-and-white and color for a bit of the film's boxing sequence. Editor Sean Albertson does some nice editing in the boxing sequences that's very stylized while doing some nice cutting in bringing footage of the old Rocky movies to the new one to give the sense of emotion that Rocky is feeling. Production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone and art directors Michael Atwell and Jesse Rosenthal do wonderful work on the films differing locations to the ruins of South Philly to the posh lifestyle that Dixon lives in. Costume designer Gretchen Patch also does some nice work in giving Sly's old boxing trunks a new, sheen-like look. Sound editor Anthony J. Ciccolini III does some wonderful work in the films sound, notably the boxing sequences to give the feeling of the punches. Bill Conti brings a wonderfully plaintive, melancholic score to convey Rocky's emotions and his old theme is played again to give that feeling of nostalgia while the Oscar-winning Three-Six Mafia does a wonderful track for the Dixon character with Rocky using Frank Sinatra as his entrance music.
The film's cast is wonderful with cameos from the likes of boxing critic Bert Sugar, Lou DiBella, Mike Tyson, Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, Max Kellerman, and you guessed it... Frank Stallone as a dinner patron. There's some notable small performances from A.J. Benza as the sleazy L.C., Henry G. Sanders, James Francis Kelly III, and from the original Rocky, Pedro Lovell reprising his role as Spider. Antonio Tarver gives a good performance as Mason Dixon with the same kind of charm and youth of today's boxers. Geraldine Hughes is excellent as Marie with her compassionate performance while being the supporting factor for Rocky and not being the love interest that's often done traditionally. Tony Burton is excellent as Duke with the speech he gives about puttin' on some hurtin' bombs. Milo Ventimiglia is great as Robert, the son who is trying to deal with being in his father's shadow as Ventimiglia does wonderful work in bringing depth into playing Rocky's son. Burt Young is excellent, in usual form, as Paulie as the man who remains Rockys best friend who tries to ground him and shares his frustrations with the changes of the world. Young also bring some nice-needed humor as he gives some funny lines.
In what has to be his best performance since the widely-underrated Copland, Sylvester Stallone reminds everyone in why he became a star. Stallone brings in the same kind of charm and wit that people know and love as Rocky while giving Rocky some serious character development. Stallone can act, when he wants to, while he proves in the dramatic moments, he can restrain himself, especially emotionally. Stallone has great scenes with Young, Burton, Ventimiglia, Hughes, and Tarver where he lets them give the chance to shine while proving that Rocky is a lot wiser and the message he gives about life is very profound. Though he might not do a performance like this, it's clear that Sylvester Stallone, still got it.
Though it's nowhere near the brilliance of Rocky, Rocky Balboa is still one of the most entertaining and uplifting films of the year. Fans of the franchise will no doubt find some relief and closure while being reminded into why they loved Rocky Balboa in the first place. Though it's a bit flawed, Sylvester Stallone and company did craft a masterfully handled, solid boxing movie that boxing fans can love. In the end, Rocky Balboa is a wonderful movie. Let's just hope Stallone doesn't do Rocky VII: Adrian's Revenge.
Rocky II (1979):
Rocky III (1983):
Rocky IV (1985):
Rocky V (1990):
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older