ROCKY BALBOA (2006) – Welcome back, Rocky

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The following is my contribution to the Inspirational Heroes Blogathon, being co-hosted by Quiggy and Rachel at, respectively, the blogs The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette’s Soliloquy from Dec. 29, 2017 through Jan. 1, 2018. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ accounts of their favorite cinematic men and women of courage!

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I swallow deeply as I write that Rocky Balboa is the Rocky sequel Sylvester Stallone should have made 25 years previously. It truly has everything the original had — wit, heart, and a genuinely engrossing climactic fight.

The first Rocky (1976) was a fine, touching movie about a likable Everyman who got a long-wished-for shot at being a champ. Though Stallone had been doing minor movie roles for years, Rocky opened people’s eyes to him, and his own rags-to-riches story paralleled that of his creation. But each successive sequel seemed a bit more removed from reality. (The only one I haven’t seen is Rocky V, which even Stallone now disowns.)

Now, both Stallone and Balboa have come full circle, and the new movie is actually about something in which the audience can have a stake. The premise is that Rocky and heavyweight champ Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) have their stats fed into a computer and are put into a simulated match. The computer’s results show that Rocky would still come out a winner.

Naturally, the real, trash-talking Dixon doesn’t buy it, and he reluctantly agrees to an exhibition match with Balboa. At this point, you’re probably rolling your eyes and guessing that Dixon doesn’t have — wait for it — the eye of the tiger, and you’d be right. But for a change, the movie is showing us that rather than telling us. As with Rocky I, the movie shows that everyone involved in the match really needs it — old, resigned Rocky, his resentful son, and his bitter brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young, back to being a likable doofus instead of an embarrassing caricature).

(The only emotional tug that seems forced on us is the long-past death of Rocky’s beloved wife Adrian. This is the movie’s one instance where Stallone rather too obviously stacked the deck.)

After 30 years, the first Rocky‘s blatantly tearjerking formula is shown to still have some real power. RB even shamelessly re-does the original’s training montage, and it and most of the other heart-tugging moments had the audience cheering. And for the first time in a long time, the cheers were earned.

Stallone was 60 years old when he made this movie, and like an aging boxer, he must have felt he wanted Rocky to go out with some dignity. Happily he, and the audience, all got what we wanted.