Sunday, December 31, 2006

Movies: Rocky Balboa (2006)

When Rocky V was released in 1990, Sylvester Stallone said it was the natural end of the story arch,which goes like this:

After late career success (Rocky, Rocky II), Rocky Balboa becomes super rich (Rocky III), fights Russians (Rocky IV), then loses all his money and ends up back in his old neighbourhood, where he becomes the trainer for a new up-and-coming boxer (Rocky V).

If that was the natural end of the arch, then why the new Rocky Balboa movie?

The sarcastic answer is that Stallone needs to pay the bills. He wrote, directed and stars in the movie. But if it were not for the love people have for the Rocky character, the movie would never have been made.

When the Rocky theme song starts and that trumpets blasts, everyone in the room feels good. And when people visit Philadelphia, they all run up those steps. The Rocky movies make people feel good. So why not a final lap around the track?


In the first movie, Rocky Balboa is an aging local boxer (ha!) who pays the bills by working as a collector for a loan shark. Then Balboa gets a shot at the champ in his hometown of Philadelphia.

In the new movie, Rocky Balboa is a retired world famous boxer who lives near his old neighbourhood and makes a living operating an Italian restaurant named Adrian's -- named after his wife who died a few years ago. Every year, Balboa drags his brother-in-law, Paulie, with him for a stroll down memory lane. Insert flashbacks from Balboa's first date here.

Eventually, Balboa decides he needs to box again -- but against local fighters. He's a fighter, after all, and wearing a smoking jacket and telling his patrons the same boxing stories again and again is making him live in the past. He wants new stories. He has feelings he wants to exorcise from his system. So he passes his physical and the boxing federation eventually gives his a licence to box.

Around this time, ESPN does a computer simulation of a hypothetical fight between Rocky Balboa (in his prime) and the new (unloved and undefeated) champ, Mason Dixon. Balboa wins the simulation. It gets people talking. Dixon's managers approach Balboa and ask him to fight the champ in an exhibition. He won't get hurt, they promise. It'll be a final hurrah for Balboa. And Dixon will be seen to be honoring the ex champs. It'll give him respect, or something.

Balboaagrees to the fight, but he's in it to prove himself. The training montage is mercifully short. Apollo's old trainer is back to help Balboa make 'hurtin' bombs' as his only chance to win is through 'blunt force trauma'. Basically, the George Forman strategy. Balboa bulks up and gets ready to fight.

Balboa gets knocked around but stays on his feet. He eventually unloads some of his 'hurtin' bombs' and the champ is rattled. To everyone's amazement, Balboa goes the distance. And the fight and the film end in the only way that they could. In that sense, Rocky Balboa is much closer to the original Rocky film than any other in the series.

During the final credits, the Rocky theme blares and we see regular running up the steps in Philadelphia. Old people. Young people. Fat people. Skinny people. Pairs of people. Single people.

Whatever you think of cinematic excellence (or not) of Rocky Balboa or the other films, the fact is that these make people happy. Happy enough to run up 20 steps, throw their arms into the air and jump around. That's something.

New Quebec rating: 3.5 / 5

Read more reviews here

Rocky (1976) and Rocky Balboa (2006)

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