Invariably in a list of great sports films you will see the word “Rocky” appear at least once. Often times more often than that, and never with the Roman numeral “V” after it. Come to think of it, repeat after me: “Rocky V does not exist… Rocky V does not exist…”
Now that we have that out of the way we can move on to the final (Sly’s words) installment in the Rocky series, “Rocky Balboa”
This summer when I saw the first preview for this film my gut reaction was, “he has to loose this one.”
And that is addressed in the exposition of the film. If you’ve been living under a rock or been in US custody for being an evil dictator in the Middle East (at which point you’ve already been executed) you know that the premise for this movie is that a sports show pits Rocky Balboa against the current champion in a virtual boxing match in which Balboa wins. This garners interest in the boxing world and a fight is set up.
But even before we get into this plotline of the film, we get a lot of Rocky visiting the old neighborhood, and replaying in his mind, and ours, the classic scenes from the first two movies. On top of that, quite a bit of time at Adrian’s grave.
One of the more interesting retrospectives lands Rocky in his old neighborhood bar. This leads to the reintroduction of one of the most classic characters in the Rocky series, “Little Maria”. Just like he did when he was a nobody club fighter he offers somewhat unsolicited advice, to make her life just a little better. This time she actually takes it.
The things that make Rocky such an endearing character in American Cinema are still there: his dumb wit, his tolerance for Pauley, and his everlasting love for his late wife, Adrian.
In fact it is in this exposition that makes this film as good as all the critics say it is. The movie’s central theme is that just because someone is older doesn’t mean they’re useless. The theme is driven home by writer/director Sylvester Stallone through dialogue and visuals true to the Rocky genre. Or to sum it up as Toby Keith said, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”
The movie is very non-Hollywood in several ways. As a function of our youth-oriented culture nobody gives Rocky a snowball’s chance against champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver). But Rocky is a fighter and a fighter must fight. Even if he is “too old” in the eyes of, well, everyone.
Much like you believed a club fighter could go the distance against the champ thirty years ago, this time you believe a sixty-five-year-old man can get into a boxing ring.
Now I’ve spent a good deal praising the first two-thirds of this movie, and that brings us to the fight scene. It is the fight scene that keeps this movie from being on a par with the first two (and best two) films in the series.
From the opening bell it feels almost like the fight scene from thirty years ago. Rocky, the underdog, gets outboxed hands down in the first round. From there I’ll avoid the spoilers, but the fight could have been better.
That being said, finally the Rocky story has an ending fitting its great legacy.