Seeing "Rocky Balboa" was like seeing a good friend from childhood, it has been thirty years since we first met. Rocky and the people from my generation have traveled down different roads and have faced roadblocks of grief and financial hardships. Yet as we deal with aching joints, slower reaction times and a new world lacking human values, my pal Rocky is a reminder of the positive values that we all basically share.
The initial box office of "Rocky Balboa" has been tentative. Fans of the series came out in full force on the opening day, but the film placed three on the national Christmas Box Office report. Perhaps the prejudice of seeing a 60 year old man fighting a young lion would be too unbelievable for most ticket buyers. However "Rocky’s" creator, Sylvester Stallone felt that the character still had something to say. Thank God for free speech!!!
The film opens with Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) wrecking opponent after opponent in the squared circle. He is a great heavyweight champion, but he is not loved, nor does he have much of a personality. Enter widower Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a former two time heavyweight champion and restaurant owner. He is still a hero of Philadelphia , though his glory has been fading. After an ESPN computer contest pits Mason Dixon versus Rocky Balboa, public interest in the Old Lion is reborn. Rocky Balboa is asked to fight the new lion for charity in an exhibition match.
"Rocky Balboa" is a triumph of character over narrative. While Rocky is the film’s central character, the movie respects the other supporting characters. Rocky’s sidekick and brother-in-law Pauley (Burt Young) continues to make funny, if politically incorrect, statements about the nature of things. Single mother Marie (Geraldine Hughes) is a potty mouth acquaintance of Rocky’s from the first movie. Even Pedro Lovell as Rocky’s first knockout from the original "Rocky" returns as Spider Rico. The ghost of Adrian (Talia Shire) and Mickey (Burgess Meredith) figure predominantly in Rocky’s subconscious as flashbacks.
“Rocky Balboa” had everything going against it; a faded movie star, a franchise that was mocked by mainstream pseudo intellectuals and an air of desperation. This, of course, was the chemical components that made the original “Rocky” a classic in 1976. Stallone manages to take every negative and turn it into an entertaining positive. With this self conscious alchemy, Stallone regains his soul as a writer.
As a director, "Rocky Balboa" is Stallone’s best directed feature ever. Stallone experiments with the cinematography that supports the storyline. One scene that stands out is when Rocky and Paulie visit the demolished skating rink, the sight of his first date with Adrian, his late wife. From the backlight of the van, Rocky is illuminated with heavenly precision. As an actor, Stallone gives his best performance ever. Even in the lesser sequels, Stallone’s trademark character made the inane plot points work. This time, Rocky provides a speech to his son (Milo Ventimiglia) about the facts of life. This is Stallone’s most heartfelt scene since the original "Rocky." This speech alone is worth the price of admission.
It has been a rough couple of years for moviegoers and this particularly film writer. There is a spiritual strength that arises from "Rocky Balboa" that seems to be lacking in mainstream motion pictures as of late. "Rocky Balboa" caters to individuals who like to laugh, cheer and feel euphoric at the end of a movie.