By Vic Holtreman
Short version: A great goodbye to Rocky that will remind you of the original.
That was my reaction when I first heard about this project, but guess what? Rocky Balboa really works. I'm glad Stallone revisted the character that put him on the map because he did a heck of a job with this film. Instead of suffering from "sequel-itis" it feels like the closing chapter of a great story.
Rocky Balboa shows us a Rocky who has come full circle: He's back in his old neighborhood, living in a small apartment with very modest means. He's also alone again, with Adrian having died a couple of years ago of "woman's cancer." He's the same old, lovable, seemingly not-so-bright character who is smart about what really matters, but there's a terrible hole in his life left by the loss of his beloved wife.
I had wondered why Talia Shire was not involved in this film, but now I see that her character's death was crucial to the story. The loss of Adrian sucked the light out of Rocky's life, and he spends most of his time reminiscing about the past. He visits Adrian's grave often and owns a restaurant named after her where he regales customers with old fight stories. Paulie is still around and is still the same old angry, prejudiced guy he always was, but Burt Young (who plays Paulie) manages to bring a subtle touch to the character that makes him feel incredibly real.
There's a new young fighter (Mason "The Line" Dixon played by real life boxer Antonio Tarver) on the scene who is undefeated but has never gone more than a round or two in a professional fight, always winning by knockout within minutes. He has fallen from popularity, being the champ that people love to hate. One of the weaknesses of the film was that I wasn't really sure WHY he was so disliked, as they painted him as a decent guy. The most likely reason was that his promoters had set him up with a string of lackluster contenders, making the public think his title was a sham.
When a computerized matchup between Rocky and Dixon is broadcast by ESPN showing that if both fighters came together at their peak Rocky would have won, Dixon's sleazy promoters decide this would be a great way to bring the high dollars back to Dixon's fights. This becomes a possibility because Rocky approached the fight commission recently, wanting to get permission to get into the ring again for some low-level boxing to try to fill the void in his life.
Much of the film is paced slowly, really giving us a feel for Stallone's signature character. He meets up with Marie, a character from the orginal (I think) Rocky movie who was a teen at the time to whom he gave some advice which apparently stuck. They befriend each other and Rocky, who despite his efforts seems to be somewhat estranged from his son (Milo Ventimiglia who is a regular on Heroes), becomes a father figure to Marie's son.
Eventually of course, Rocky ends up in the ring fighting Dixon in the most realistic boxing match shown in any of the Rocky films. Stallone is in incredible shape for his age... heck, incredible shape for a 30 year old, and the great thing is that they do address that in the film regarding his training for the fight. While Rocky is an amazing character, Stallone is as well.
Being the sci-fi geek that I am, towards the end I couldn't help thinking about how wonderfully this movie closed the chapter on Rocky as opposed to the ignoble end of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations which seemed like no more than an empty and rushed end to another beloved character.
Rocky Balboa reminded me very much of the original Rocky in both feel and story and is a sentimental, but not sappy goodbye to an iconic character that brings him full circle with a satisfying ending.
Rocky Balboa includes a number of deleted scenes, including an alternate scene where he meets Marie and an alternate ending where the opposite person wins the fight. In both cases I thought that the best scene was used in the film. There is also a very short blooper collection.
In the "Making Of" department there are three items: An overall making of the film, which is standard fare except towards the end where Stallone talks about the history of the series and his feelings on playing the character for the very last time. There is also a segment covering the boxing sequence, in which we learn that the hits were very real during the fight, and we get Stallone's perspective on making the fight in this film much more "real" than the overblown fights in the previous films. Last, there is a segment on the CGI fight sequence that was the impetus for the actual match in the film. If you're not a sci-fi geek, you'll find this interesting as they cover all the standard motion capture and plaster cast methods used to replicate actors on-screen.
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