When Rocky Balboa was announced to go into production the world laughed. The Rocky franchise had been dormant for over 15 years now and the last installment was the abysmal part V. Stallone himself was starring in flop after flop after 1997’s Cop Land and was in his late 50’s at the time which made people scratch their head even more. The last grasp of an actor past his prime. Boy did people chuckle at the idea of the disaster that was going to be Rocky Balboa, and boy did Stallone prove everybody wrong!
Rocky Balboa starts off 15/16 years after the first movie. Rocky is now a widower as Adrian passed away after battling, as he calls it, “women cancer”. My guess it’s breast cancer, but it could just as well have been ovarian cancer, but I doubt that Rocky knows what ovaries are. He owns a small restaurant named Adrian’s and tells boxing stories from back in the day to his customers. He lives a rather low-key life in a small house and visits her grave a lot. The contact with his son is troublesome, mostly because the latter has trouble being recognized as more than just Rocky’s son. To quote Rocky Jr.: “you cast a large shadow”. The mourning Rocky believes there is still something left in the, once again as he puts it, basement and wants to fight some small local fights. After an inspiring speech he receives a license to box again. A Rocky movie wouldn’t be one if there wasn’t a big fight coming up and in Rocky Balboa he gets the opportunity to fight the current heavyweight champ Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon in what is supposed to be an exhibition match, but means so much more for Rocky.
With Rocky V they tried to make the series come full circle with Rocky going bankrupt and moving back to the old neighborhood. The tone of the movie was depressing and generally disliked and with Rocky Balboa, Stallone tries to give the series a true proper finale, and to be honest: he succeeds. One of the reasons why part V didn’t connect to the first movie was the lighting. Somehow the look of the movie felt very much like a big budget movie with a lot of blue tones. The original was made on a 1 million dollar budget and used grey and other desaturated tones. Even the poster was black and white. Stallone has gone to great lengths to give Rocky Balboa the same color tones as the original even making the movie poster an homage to the original. There’s also a glimmer of hope and an upbeat tone as Rocky has a decent life, but gets to step in the ring one more time to show the world who he is and what he’s still got left. In a way this movie resembles the first one in terms of story and style. Instead of Adrian, whose death is a wise choice since she was reduced to a nagging two-dimensional character over the course of the series, Rocky “hooks up” with Marie, the little girl he once walked home in the first movie. Another character returning is Spider Rico who in this movie has more lines than he had in the original. Paulie is still alive too and he has his old job in the meat plant again until he gets fired.
Rocky Balboa is the final chapter this character deserves. Stallone proved to the world there was still a good story to tell about the character. He gives him a final heart felt send-off which washes away the dirty taste Rocky V left in everybody’s mouth.