Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Running Time: 102 mins
Rocky Balboa is an American film and the sixth in the Rocky series. Thirty years after his first big victory, Rocky is living as a widower in Philadelphia, running a small Italian restaurant. However, the past comes calling as rumours swirl that he could make his fighting return.
Starting off as a touching, sentimental send-off for this legendary franchise, Rocky Balboa is without doubt at its best when it’s at its most nostalgic. Sylvester Stallone is at his most lovable here, with passion and love for his defining role spilling out at every moment, and that makes the film’s drama so wonderful to follow.
However, while the film gets off to a great start with that tender emotional drama, it soon loses its way, becoming drawn into a completely improbable sporting comeback that has none of the magic of the original underdog stories in this series.
It’s a real shame, because through the first act, I was absolutely loving Rocky Balboa. At times, you might call it too sentimental, but having been through such a long journey with these characters, and for Stallone to still be so committed to telling that story with as much heart as possible, is such a rare treasure in the modern world.
The Rocky movies may be best known as boxing films, but there’s no denying that the series strength really lies in its drama. While there have been ups and downs over the years, Rocky Balboa starts off with a patient, quiet and touching ode to this wonderful life story, and it’s an utter joy to behold.
Sylvester Stallone plays the role with all the maturity he’s gained over the years, and yet still with the blend of never-say-die determination and lovable humility that makes Rocky such a great character. His living situation may be different now, having lost his wife and been retired from boxing for years, but his heart is still there, and it’s a true pleasure to see.
Still set on the same streets of Philadelphia as thirty years ago, the film attempts to build a call to the next generation, with mixed results. Rocky’s beautiful friendship with a young mother named Marie (Geraldine Hughes) is the highlight of the film, but his bond with both his own son and Marie’s own son are less than convincing, and fail to engender the dramatic resonance that the film is aiming for.
However, it’s still great to see that the film tries hard to be true to its roots, without getting too carried away too soon.
Unfortunately, that changes in the second and third acts, as Rocky gets his chance for a comeback when he begins to prepare to fight the much younger current heavyweight champion.
Now, while it’s great to see Balboa getting back in the ring, the setup is completely implausible, and it’s really difficult to believe the story that the film is trying to spell out for you.
As the movie gets more sport-oriented with training montages and ultimately the big fight, it loses sight of its more tender drama, and that really hurts it, making Rocky Balboa an ultimately underwhelming film that neither moves you nor gets the blood pumping in quite the same way as the original.
It’s fair to say that Stallone’s passion for Rocky is undying, and when the film is at its most personal, it works beautifully. But as a sporting underdog story, Rocky Balboa goes a step too far, and struggles to keep you engrossed in the same way as its predecessors right to the finish. So, that’s why I’m giving the film a 7.1 overall.