Rocky Balboa is a very fitting swan song to the Rocky legacy. It's a film that reverently brings a close to one of the silver screen's most beloved underdogs. Throughout this film, there are faces from the past and wonderful memories to share. It very much feels like this movie is putting all of its affairs in order for a final goodbye. Sly recaptures much of what made the first Rocky movie so memorable his performance and direction, and he also reminds us that he's a very talented actor, bringing tears to my eyes in one key scene. Paulie returns to the character that we'll always remember him as, and Burt Young also puts in a solid and touching performance as Rocky's friend and confidant. While there are other new characters introduced, these are the two that really matter and the two the film most thoroughly develops and focuses on. While that's certainly fitting, it also causes some problems.
We meet Rocky's grown son, played by Milo Ventimiglia of Heroes fame, but it seems this character is only there for one key scene and the rest of the time Stallone wasn't sure what to do with him (Sly both wrote and directed this final outing). Another kid, sort of a surrogate son figure, is introduced but it's an introduction that goes no where, which is a pity because it was a side plot with a lot of potential. There's also a new challenger, Mason Dixon, and we're introduced to him with another touching scene that unfortunately leads no where with the character. At the beginning of the film I was intriguied at the possibility that this character would be as well-developed as the movie's namesake, but that turned out not to be the case. Again, a great opportunity not seized in the story-telling of this movie. In fact, anything not related to Rocky is pretty much left undeveloped and unresolved.
However, we all know this movie is supposed to be about Rocky, and fortunately it's where this film truly shines. This is the Rocky I remember from the first film. I'm not a huge Rocky fan, I've only seen two of the fifteen hundred movies based on the character, but I'm at least aware of what the essence of the character is supposed to be and Stallone recaptures that essence in a very heartfelt manner one more time. In fact, this isn't even really a boxing movie; it's more a movie that features a character that happens to be a boxer, and it's really about the character more than anything else. Yes there is a boxing match, but it's not what the film is about. In fact, I found the actual fight to be the least interesting part of the film. It's completely anti-climatic, but for some reason Stallone chose to use all sorts of fancy film and effects techniques for the sequence to make seem bigger than it really is. It's almost as if he knew this part of the film lacked a certain intensity from the characters and tried to interject that intensity with fancy visuals. Instead, it's just distracting because it's so unnecessary. But that's okay, because as I said, the movie isn't about that, it's about Rocky and one final lesson learned by the legendary fighter.
What Rocky learns, and also what he imparts to his progeny, is that it doesn't matter how hard you hit, what matters is how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. Rocky points out very bluntly that life is hard, and I think we can all attest to the truth of that statement. Movies (other movies), TV shows, books and especially advertisements all tell us that life should by idyllic and enjoyable (which is obviously made possible with the right products). However, we all know that isn't true. In many ways, life is a lot harder than it should be. Life is often unfair and cruel. It can beat us down. We can hit back as hard as we want, but that rarely makes a difference. There is another option however, the option Rocky chooses, the option to take the hits and keep moving forward. The question is, where are you going to find the will, the inspiration, the strength to do that. A character like Rocky? This is his last movie, so that isn't going to last. In fact, anything we rely on in this world won't last. If we truly want to find the will, the strength, the inspiration to take the hits that life metes out and still keep moving forward, there's only one source, one Person we can turn to that won't ever let us down; Jesus Christ. He suffered more than any of us will ever know, and yet he kept moving forward. Now he wants to help you do the same. He wants to lend you his strength to take the hits, his will to get back up, and his inspiration to keep moving forward.
Yes I left Rocky Balboa inspired. I left feeling like I had just said "so long" to an old friend. But I also left unsatisfied with everything left unsaid and unresolved. I don't like being introduced to people and stories that I don't get any closure with. I don't like not knowing if this experience affected anyone else other than Rocky, especially not knowing how it affected his opponent. Still, Rocky Balboa had enough heart to get me past all the flaws so I could enjoy this final outing with a boxing legend who isn't even real, but he feels real, and that's what great movie making is all about. Rocky always had heart, and his heart really shines through in the final film. It made me feel warm. It made me feel good, and as my friend said, it makes a forty-year old feel ten again. Who wouldn't want to go to a movie like that, especially during this special Christmas season?