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Movie Review-Rocky Balboa

Monday, January 22, 2007

Written by Jeremy Hatt

Rocky Balboa is one of my favourite movie characters of all time, right up there alongside such others as Tuco from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Tony Montana from Scarface, and Marge Gunderson from Fargo. After six movies, I feel as if I’ve known Rocky as a lifelong friend rather than merely a cinematic icon.

I’m relieved to say that Rocky Balboa does not suffer the drawn out, tired feel of most sequels that run past the trilogy mark. Instead, it is the third best movie in the series. For the record, the series falls in this order from best to worst: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky Balboa, Rocky V, Rocky III, Rocky IV. Rocky triumphed with its originality and Sylvester Stallone’s breakthrough acting as the idiosyncratic underdog boxer, while Rocky IV feels like a feature length montage showing clips from its superior predecessors and finishing with Rocky ending the Cold War. Rocky V was a surprise that redeemed the meandering of III and IV and mercifully did not bring back the character of the talking robot (yet another aspect making Rocky IV a terrible movie).

This time around, Rocky (Stallone) is living a pleasant retirement in Philadelphia as the owner of a restaurant. Patrons continually ask him about the glory days of his early career in the ring and his bouts against Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Captain Ivan Drago. We also learn that Rocky is widowed but he still visits Adrian’s gravesite often. These opening scenes are excellent and set up an actual story, which is what Rocky III and IV lacked. We see that Rocky is proud of his accomplishments and still gets inspiration from his wife who helped him through all those years in the ring.

Meanwhile, the current heavyweight champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), is receiving criticism from boxing fans and media for his undefeated record against a string of nobodies. His career is in trouble until a computer simulation is generated that sets up Rocky Balboa versus Mason Dixon in a classic battle of champions. The virtual match up appoints Rocky the winner and Dixon’s managers imagine the lucrative possibilities of a real fight between the two. Though Rocky is hesitant at first, his passion for the ring re-emerges. He enlists the help of his brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young), his old trainer, Duke (Tony Burton), and his son for his final boxing match. For a Rocky movie to work, I also believe that his opponent requires sufficient character development and Dixon has enough scenes to know that he takes his job seriously and we understand his frustration towards the media.

Rocky Balboa breathes new life into the anthology with a heartfelt emotional story to supplement the final match. Rocky has lost some of his mannerisms and jocular behaviour along the way but he has gained a lot of wisdom over the years. This is most apparent in the scenes with his son, Rocky Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), who feels like he has always lived in the shadow of his famous father; even believing he was hired at his job because of his last name. He tries to convince Rocky that the name Balboa will become an embarrassment if he loses the match. The best scene in the movie involves Rocky explaining to his son why he needs to fight and that he lives in the shadow of nobody.

Rocky also meets a sweet, new love interest in Marie (Geraldine Hughes), although I use that term very loosely. The movie appropriately keeps the two from getting romantically involved during the story as this would undermine his eternal relationship with Adrian. However, this does is provide evidence that Rocky is finally ready to move on after his wife’s death. Rocky helps Marie who is just getting by and serves as a role model to her troubled son (James Francis Kelly III). Paulie (Burt Young) has some great scenes as well and his relationship with his brother-in-law has never been closer. He understands Rocky and knows that he still has inner demons that he has to get rid of. He convinces Rocky that this fight is the way to do it.

The fight is a wonder to watch. Sylvester Stallone really shows his age but this makes the fight even more effective. We see Mason Dixon start off confident, gradually get nervous, and then fighting for his career once he realizes that this is not a match about crowd-pleasing; Rocky wants to win. This parallels the fight between Rocky and Apollo, and is just as exciting to watch. Once again, the close camera work and payperview-style filming makes the fight intense, painful, memorable, and most importantly, entertaining.

Rocky Balboa serves as a great finale in a series that has run its course. The anthology has ended on a very high note and fans will be left satisfied. The final shot of the movie is beautiful in its simplicity and finality, ending the final chapter of an inspiring hero.

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