Day Sixteen: Rocky Balboa (MotM 2021)

All right, it’s back to going with the promotional material. What can I say? This one kind of revitalized me.

Rocky V is what it is. The intended sendoff for the series that, based on the places I frequent, was not too well-received. It seems Stallone was listening, because sixteen years after, he decided to make another movie, this time focused on the passage of time and Rocky in a much lonelier, pedestrian situation.

It’s the mid-2000’s. The world seems like a different place, but a lot’s the same. People still like sports, the city’s still a little crummy, and Rocky is still a beloved icon. His prime is past, though. Alone after the death of his wife, Rocky’s in a bit of a rut. Sad Rocko. A lot of Rocky Balboa is just Rocky going around trying to find some semblance of meaning, rekindling the passion for the people and calling back to prior films. It’s funny, this is kind of like a sequel and a reboot in one. It loosely follows the beats of the first, yet it requires prior knowledge of the franchise for full emotional effect.

A bit bright, eh?

Perhaps shockingly, it works. The unearthing of “Sad Rocko” is actually quite refreshing given the state of the franchise to this point. A lot of things felt manufactured—comas, goading, publicity, family drama. Here, it’s a combination of two things that have always been present, but now fully grounded in the reality of his situation: death and pride.

His wife, Adrian—his pillar of support since the beginning—gone forever. She’s a prominent part of the film despite not being in it physically. He sees her in many things, reminisces, and visits her grave often. It’s done. There’s a finality to it. Being married for as long as they had been, there’s simply too much to bear, and it’s easy to empathize.

And he’s old. I don’t know if he’s ever specifically aged in the film, but he’s likely in his fifties. Fighting? Forget about it. He’ll get destroyed. Body’s not doing it anymore, can’t respond anymore. Yet the itch still lingers. Rocky’s a fighter; all that’s necessary is a spark. In a sense, he never had his true “last fight,” done on his own terms. When given the opportunity, he takes it. One last shot to beat the odds, in the most “underdog” fashion since the original film.

They did the thing. Again.

Currently running out of time. Will try to list some things off in a more direct manner.

I like that this is a more grounded approach to the first film, filled with winks and nods to the first and more emotional resonance. There’s more weight here, with less of the cartoonish nature of the prior three entries. In the end, it’s not really about the results of the fight, it’s about Rocky giving it his all. The original beauty of the first Rocky told in a different period of time in different circumstances.

Despite this great foundation, it doesn’t always stick the landing (also like the first film). Some of the ensuing drama with his son is kind of off-base. Doesn’t feel properly developed, and resolved with little more than a few confrontations and monologues. On that note, Milo Ventimiglia as Rocky, Jr. was kiiiiiiiind of bad. Other sections, such as Rocky’s bond with a familiar friend’s son, is also developed slightly only to be dropped in favor of the “main course,” so to speak. Lots of things that are built up to that eventually don’t mean much in the long run.

What a bum.

Not totally sure why Stallone keeps making Paulie a detestable racist, but hey, that’s a thing, I guess.

All things considered, this is a much more fitting end to the franchise than V. Though I say this as someone who only really enjoyed the first and second films. I said this to my brother only 15 minutes into Rocky Balboa, but I knew from there already that this is the order you watch the Rocky films:

RockyRocky IIRocky Balboa

That’s it. That’s all you need. Pretty good. The rest of them? Bah!

Final Score: 6/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

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