Rocky Balboa Review

Salvaging the life and times of a man so removed from the pedestal of quality he was once known for is an uphill struggle. Sylvester Stallone can do it, so can you. Probably. Stallone, in particular though, has experience in this area. Not just as his longstanding role, Rocky Balboa, but as an artist and creative. Here he is, lacing up the boots and padding out the gloves for a sixth and not so final time. Rocky Balboa, seemingly, never ends. His end is nigh, though, and this final, standalone feature for the former heavyweight champion of the world is a strong enough send-off as he rumbles through old age, coming out of retirement and defending his abilities and his pride.  

While the beauty of the Balboa character is his simplicity, there is depth here that did not appear in the previous instalments. He is not a shell of a man, but coasts off of his former success, making a living off of appearances and restaurants. It is the lifestyle he attempted to avoid in Rocky II, but even the best of fighters fails to back down from the inevitabilities of an inactive social life. He lost his wife, relies on brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) for the occasional emotional respite, and longs for the days he could fight his way through opponents. That much is captured exceptionally well. An emotive performance from Stallone sees him traipse through the ground of his glory days, most of it has been destroyed or removed from the area. The gym he trained at has been demolished, the house he lives in lacking a family. It is very touching stuff, but the poor ageing of direction and editing styles dampen the heroics. 

Case in point, the moments of flashback, the gross lighting and ineffective inclusion of Paulie. “You’re livin’ backwards, Rocco,” Paulie says. He’s not wrong, but the twinkling piano keys and the glistening night sky as they stand outside of their former stomping grounds is a tad on the nose. Impactful writing, but location, set and sound make all the difference in moments like this. Stripped to the essentials, and you have an opportune moment to contrast who Balboa is at the start and end of the film. Instead, as Balboa walks into the horribly bright lights of a van parked behind him, the symbolism is layered on thick, for Stallone hasn’t the greatest faith in his directing capabilities. A sad shame, especially considering there are pockets found throughout that suggest Rocky Balboa is a return to form for the dwindling series.  

Rocky Balboa takes on the challenge of proving to us that you can do anything. It is tremendously upbeat, modernising the Balboa name for the next generation, yet inherently downtrodden and suffering along in misery. Such a feat is accomplished by showing an ageing man, realising he is past his prime, but still up to the task of defending his former fame and fortune. That is the key consistency to Rocky Balboa, a film that wishes to accept age and embrace it. You can, indeed, teach an old dog new tricks. His bark has faded, but his bite appears to be stronger than ever. The beauty of Rocky Balboa is that Stallone had nothing to prove, but does so anyway.  

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