“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Synopsis

About fifteen years since the events of Rocky V and The Italian Stallion is trying to deal with life following the death of Adrian.  He’s opened up a restaurant, named after her, in which he tells stories of the old days to his customers and gets by on his charm and good nature.  When the opportunity presents itself for Rocky to get back in the ring for an exhibition fight against the world champion (himself looking to revitalize his public image) Rocky starts to reignite the old interior battle flames for one final match to leave it all out on the table, but to the dismay of his son who struggles to break out of his father’s shadow in his own endeavors.

Why We Love It

Of all the sequels in one of cinema’s most popular franchises this one feels most authentic and honest to the original, or at least the most connected since the third film.  Not to diminish the entertainment value of the other installments (even the fifth…to a degree), Rocky Balboa is just more of a return to the emotional struggles of the character.  With the passing of the heart and soul of the main character’s heart and soul there’s more turmoil for Rocky than ever before, which he of course meets face on like the champion that he is, thus making for some very effective drama.

This is also the first film in the series which ties most in to the actual climate of the boxing world.  Not necessarily the fighters, or even the fighting when it finally comes to that in the finale, but an objective view of the lack of popular heavyweight competition in a sport that thrived on that weight class for an entire century and came to an indefinite halt with the retirement of Lennox Lewis earlier this decade.  That’s the state of affairs the film’s heavyweight champion (played by prior light heavyweight champion of the world Antonio Tarver) finds himself in, and to his own detriment needs Rocky for more reasons than one.  He needs a fight that’ll not only increase the public interest in the heavyweight class again, but he also needs that special challenger – the one that doesn’t know how to quit moving forward and testing an opponent’s limits.  Despite Rocky’s age we know him to be that challenger.

Unlike the other films in the series though, this film doesn’t build up to the fight.  It has its training montage, and it’s got the blood and guts of the other main events from the prior five films, but the highpoints of Rocky Balboa don’t come with the final fight and lead-up training; at least, not in terms of what is most enjoyable to revisit.  It’s in the moments where Rocky unleashes his wisdom onto his son (proving that wisdom and intelligence are not hand in hand), lets the boxing license commission get an earful of their own injustice, and pours his heart out to his brother-in-law Paulie about just how painful it is to be without the best thing that ever happened to him – and it isn’t boxing.

Moment We Fell In Love

The same day every year Rocky takes a tour of Philly to all of the places most significant to his life with Adrian; the old pet store, their first home, and the ice skating rink that’s no longer there.  Paulie comes along for the ride, as he’s done for the past three years, and at first it appears like he’s just being typical Paulie – constantly asking Rocky if he’s ready to leave each spot, talking about how he’s happy the ice rink was torn down, and just adding a negative vibe to Rocky’s attempt to reminisce about the greatest thing he’s ever known.  Rocky turns to Paulie and asks what his problem is and the torment finally comes out, Paulie can’t think back on the times that Rocky finds so endearing because all he can recall is how badly he treated his sister.  It’s Paulie’s moment of honest remorse uncovered in a touching recap down memory lane of one of the most loving relationships in cinema.

Final Thoughts

I don’t recall any of the other films in the series having as many moments of blunt honesty as Rocky Balboa.  I never expected that my favorite parts to a Rocky film would take place outside of a ring or gym, but some of the monologues and dialogue exchanges feel as authentic in their delivery as if they were words spoken and not words being read.  It feels like the first film since the first film that Stallone needed to make and not just wanted to make, because there was more to say and not because there was more that could be done.

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