Director: Sylvester Stallone
Fans of the original 1976 Academy Award Winning Best Picture Rocky will cherish Sylvester Stallone’s sentimental, understated and worthy bookend to the epic series, which admittedly fluctuated in quality during the middle sequels, that felt like they had just been cranked out for the box office and fans. Rocky, like Stallone himself, has become an American icon by now—nearly symbolic of Philadelphia itself, which is once again an overwhelmingly silent but nonetheless equal character in the Rocky mythology especially in the first and final film. Thus Rocky Balboa (wisely minus a roman numeral to distinguish it from the rest) is the best follow-up in the series and keeps in the spirit audiences first fell in love with over thirty years ago. As the film opens, we find that not too much has changed in Rocky’s life—he still lives in the same run-down area of Philadelphia and remains deeply in love with Adrian who has passed away but whose grave he visits frequently. He spends most days running a restaurant named after his late wife where night after night he regales the clientele with stories of his famous fights with Apollo Creed and other opponents. Feeling alienated by the overpowering shadow of his famous father, Rocky’s son Robert (played this time around by Gilmore Girls and Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia-- himself a dead-ringer for the older actor) is struggling to make it in the business world and live a normal life. However, when a television sports announcer proposes the question of who would win in a fight between Rocky Balboa in his prime and the new heavyweight champion of the world that few respect or are willing to fight, an animated simulation fight is created and the Balboas are thrust back into the spotlight. Feeling like he still has some fight left in him, Rocky decides to train once again, this time battling the ageist boxing commission, the audience’s stereotype of older fighters and his own inner demon as Pauly (Burt Young), Robert and a now-grown Little Marie (Geraldine Hughes) who memorably told Rocky off in the first film all rally around the former legend. Rocky Balboa is not only a fitting conclusion to the series but is brimming with creative choices that become more apparent on a second viewing such as art direction decisions made by Stallone to contrast the worlds of the new fighting lifestyle of fast cars and bling bling and Rocky’s humble surroundings along with some truly innovative decisions in cinematography during the fight (switching from black and white to color, etc.). The DVD is well worth the rental for fans, like me, unashamed to admit they still hold a soft spot for the 70’s American classic and the extra features are of definite interest as well.