Movie Review: Rocky Balboa

It’s about the man, not the fight


The Italian Stallion returns for the 6th time in “ROCKY BALBOA”, appropriately titled to emphasize the film’s focus on character over plot. Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character emerges from retirement to face an audience worn down by formulaic repetitions of the storyline that worked so well in the first ROCKY film: challenged by a physically superior foe so dominant that to fight him is tantamount to committing suicide, Rocky trains harder than anyone ever thought possible, and in the end, thanks to his limitless heart, triumphs over his brutal antagonist (to the great relief from his always-worried Adrian).

In my book, there were only 2 good films in the franchise – ROCKY I, the original and by far the greatest, and ROCKY III, because it introduced us all to Mr. T and he was fantastic. (I remember walking home from seeing the movie at the theater in the Center and promising myself I’d do pull-ups from ceiling pipes like T did in the movie. Unfortunately, that vow fared poorly). The strengths of the first ROCKY are numerous, but at the core, the movie is all about characters, and heart, so when that lovable big dreamin’ dummy Rocky gets in the ring against Apollo Creed, we really, really, really want him to win. Stallone seems to have forgotten this lesson – until now.

I’m now adding ROCKY BALBOA to the list of great movies in the franchise, and I think it’s better than ROCKY III. (Heresy for a child of the ‘80s to say – but it’s true!) Kudos to Sylvester Stallone, who wrote and directed as well as starred. Here he returns to the kind of material that I think serves him best – not muscle-bound action crap, but work rooted in character. My favorite performances from Stallone are performances where character comes first – where I believe in his underdog status. Those would be ROCKY I, COP LAND, and here in ROCKY BALBOA.

In this movie, I fell for the big palooka Rocky all over again – his weird but lovable speech patterns, his nervousness around other people, his complete lack of guile, and his huge, genuine big-heartedness. This was the first ROCKY movie where I didn’t want to see the fight – not because I was worried Rocky would get killed, but because I was enjoying the movie so much without it. We’re seeing Rocky’s struggles as an aging, over-the-hill icon, as a father whose son is distant, as a man who sees relics of his past all around him and whose only soul mates are all dead. Watching Rocky wandering around his old Philadelphia haunts was wonderful, and it didn’t feel forced or saccharine; it felt right for the character and for the story. We’ve aged right along with this character, so his flashbacks of the better days resonated deeply, because they felt distant and beloved to the audience too. And the audience is well-rewarded by organic re-appearances of characters large and small from throughout the ROCKY series. I could have stayed in theater for hours watching that kind of Rocky movie. Although I would like to have seen more screen time devoted to some of the storylines that weren’t fully developed in the film (Rocky’s relationship with his son, and his relationship with Street, the boy he’s mentoring), I still came away happy. I really liked seeing a man who once had it all returned to his humble roots, trying to lift others up in that charmingly simple way that Rocky has. Rocky Balboa was a good guy and I missed him. I’m sorry we won’t be seeing anymore of him.

I recommend that anyone who enjoyed the film check out the Q&A sessions that Stallone did via e-mail on (scroll down for links to his other answer sessions.) He reveals himself to be a very intelligent guy who acknowledges the stupidity of doing bad movies like STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT that have dulled his star’s luster. Here’s two of his comments that I found particularly interesting:

I thought the most tragic thing one could be confronted with is the prospect of loneliness and the second, the lack of opportunity to prove one’s self-worth. So Rocky was just a manifestation of all the underdogs who dream of one day having the opportunity to reach for the stars. They may not get there, but at least the opportunity to show what’s in a person’s heart is the main goal.

Non-physical courage is the most profound courage of all.

Spoilers follow! Don’t read if you don’t want the movie spoiled!

    How great was it that Stallone brought back L’il Marie? Even though she’s only on camera for a couple minutes in the original, I remembered her clearly. She was a great character. Too bad she turns into an Adrian substitute here.
    I thought it was absolutely great that Rocky doesn’t even stick around for the formal announcement of who won the fight. Because it doesn’t matter to him. He didn’t come to win, he came to fight. He’s got the confidence and experience and self-esteem to know that he did what he came to do. A great dramatic choice.
    I thought the relationship between Rocky and his son was about 80% right, but there were some missteps. The scene where Rocky goes off on him on the street was really good, but we didn’t need it hammered home to us during the big fight. If Rocky’s doing the fight to prove to his son that you just keep moving forward, then a few well-placed looks between them during the battle would sell much better than awkward voice-over. Just when it looks worst for Rocky, he should look over at his son, and we see in Rocky’s eyes that he’s sending the boy a message. The trembling kid stares back – and we see the message has been received. That’s filmmaking. I also want to see more of Rocky mentoring Street, and a scene between Street and Rocky’s son showing how they felt about each other – one son who rejected his father’s legacy, and his apparent replacement.
    Less of the L’il Marie during the fight. With all of her nervousness and whining, she became the new Adrian.
    I hated that the first rounds of the fight were shot on video, as if we were seeing them on TV. I felt very removed for that part of the movie. Don’t switch from film to video in the middle of the movie. It’s jarring… as is the weird color shifts.

Author: LilBro

I'm his little brother.

One thought on “Movie Review: Rocky Balboa”

  1. I have a soft spot for Rocky V. Sure, it’s generally scorned as ridiculous. But it gets better if you know the first ending. Stallone had intended for his character to not only lose the climactic fight, but to die in the process. That’s right, Rocky V was going to end the franchise with him dying.

    …but the studios wouldn’t let him, or talked him out of it somehow. So they slapped a feel-good ending onto it. The whole movie is designed with one ending, but gets another. If you watch it knowing what the ending is supposed to be, it makes a much richer experience.

    And how can you review Rocky III without mentioning Thunderlips!?

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