Friday, July 22, 2016
(December 2006, U.S.)
No, you're not imagining things. I have completed skipped over ROCKY III, ROCKY IV and ROCKY V! They have no place in my appreciation for the character and the franchise.
I avoided ROCKY BALBOA with everything I had! Really, I'd reached the point where I was completely fed up with sequels, reboots, spin-offs and every other form of the so-called "Hollywood recycling machine"! With only a lackluster ROCKY III and an absolutely horrible ROCKY IV and V, Rocky's story felt over and done with forever. But sometimes, like other places in life, you get dragged to the movies. I got dragged by my father and brother on Christmas Day 2006 while my wife and son were away visiting family in Texas (because that's what Jewish people do on Christmas Day - they go to the movies and then out for Chinese food. It's not a myth!). So before I'd even had a chance to protest, I was sitting in the Manhattan movie theater seat watching the big white letters of ROCKY scroll from the right side of the screen to the left (again!).
Okay, so it's now (supposedly) thirty years since the events of the original ROCKY and the former heavyweight champion from Philadelphia is living the quiet life as an Italian restaurant owner and a widower since Adrian died of what he refers to as the "woman cancer". While he still grieves over his beloved wife, he also battles personal demons, including a deteriorating relationship with his grown son Robert. While indulging in a night of exploring his past, he runs into a now full-grown Marie (the punk twelve year-old girl he tried to give advice to in ROCKY) working at the local bar he used to frequent. She's a responsible woman now with a son of her own and the two of them almost immediately develop a new friendship all these years later. Rocky is restless, too, and is suddenly drawn to the idea of an exhibition boxing match with the current heavyweight champion of the world Mason "The Line" Dixon (played by real life boxer Antonio Tarver), an undisputed but very unpopular athlete who defeats his opponents too easily and too quickly (much in the way Mike Tyson used to do in the 1980s). This opportunity is all based on a computer fight dictating that Rocky would win by a knockout, so naturally, those who think they can promote the idea and get rich doing it waste no time in getting Rocky on board.
Like every ROCKY film preceeding this one, Rocky must come to terms with his successes, his limitations and the personal risks involved with the big fight (and let's not forget the traditional training montage with "Gonna Fly Now"). Along the way, his friendship with Marie grows stronger (platonic, of course!), as does the one with his son, who must learn from his father that in life, "it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward", and that blaming others for your own inadequacies will never work (good philosophy from the 'ol Philly punching bag!). On the night of the big HBO pay-per-view fight, the promoted "exhibition" match turns into something much more when Rocky proves to himself and the whole world watching him that he cannot only still survive in the ring at his age, but can still come out on top in triumph and in victory - because that's exactly what we expect from Rocky Balboa, as we have always expected for nearly forty years now. In the end, as Rocky concludes another visit with Adrian at the cemetery, we watch our beloved hero walk off into the distance and fade away into his own future. But, of course, Hollywood doesn't know the meaning of the word "over" - so nine years later we're given another reboot in its own right with CREED (2015). OMG, enough already!
My initial reaction after seeing ROCKY BALBOA the first time that Christmas Day was merely lukewarm. It was definitely a return-to-form over the fifth installment sixteen years prior and a redemption for Sylvester Stallone who accurately believed that he'd left Rocky's story in a very disappointing state and sought proper closure for the character. This sixth installment surely had the heart and soul of the original ROCKY, but that was, perhaps, also part of the problem. This film wasn't offering very much that we hadn't already seen back in 1976. Even the big fight itself copied elements directly from the first film, including the heavyweight champion getting knocked down for the first time in his career by Rocky, as well as the climactic conclusion of the split decision with the victory going to the reigning champion. So again, there was the old complaint of Hollywood recycling its old material. But then something unexpected happened - upon watching the DVD (more than once) over the months and years that followed, the film started to grow on me. Yes, it was very much a remake of ROCKY, but there was still something irresistible about having the character of Rocky Balboa back again (like an old friend) in a deeper, more spiritual manner in which I'd previously loved him back in the 1970s. He was old now and wounded from life and the prospect of him trying to redeem his life following the loss of Adrian made more sense to me. It should also be noted that the story idea of a man fighting in the ring at his age is not so much fiction as you might expect. The computer fight that starts everything is based on a real-life similar computer fight that took place in 1970 between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano (Marciano won). The prospect of Rocky's return late in life is also based on former heavyweight champion George Forman's real-life return to the ring in the 1990s up until the age of forty-eight. You see - sometimes you just can't make this stuff up!
By the way, when you're watching ROCKY BALBOA, you have to completely disregard the plot line in ROCKY V in which Rocky was diagnosed with brain damage and advised by his doctor never to fight again. Stallone himself clarified this apparent inconsistency by stating that...
"When Rocky was diagnosed with brain damage, it must be noted that many athletes have a form of brain damage including football players, soccer players, and other individuals in contact sports such as rugby, etc. Rocky never went for a second opinion and yielded to his wife's wishes to stop. So with the advent of new research techniques into brain damage, Rocky was found to be normal among fighters, and he was suffering the results of a severe concussion. By today's standards Rocky Balboa would be given a clean bill of health for fighters."
Well, you can buy that if you want or you can just forget that it was ever an issue. Anyway, this is where the story of Rocky Balboa finally ends for me. I watched CREED on DVD and was very unimpressed with it because it suffered from what I like to refer to as SS-NAG - same shit, not as good! So...I bid Rocky Balboa a final farewell. Now it's over!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Rocky Balboa: "Time goes by too fast, Paulie."