FRANCHISE REWIND: Rocky Balboa (2006)

Rocky Balboa, 2006 (Sylvester Stallone) MGM/Sony

“Yo, Adrian, we did it… We did it.”

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the boxing ring… Rocky Balboa is a detached adventure that obstensibly brings back the popular icon while seemingly ignoring the events of the fifth movie in the franchise. Adrian had died four years ago, and Rocky is left to his own devices. He manages an Italian restaurant and tries to keep tabs on his estranged son, Robert (Gilmore Girls’ Milo Ventimiglia) while his brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young), agonizes over his treatment of his now-dead sister.

I like that they finally gave Paulie a conscience. Burt Young was an actor I deeply admired because he had no qualms about always seeming to play a scumbag. He just has that look. Young received an Academy Award nomination for his performance as Paulie in the first Rocky movie. He has appeared in over 150 films and television shows. As of this writing, he’s still with us! Boxing just isn’t as brutal as it once was, and current heavyweight champion of the world, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) is dissatisfied with the relative lack of respect he gets from the boxing community.

Dixon is a variation on the previous movie’s Tommy Gunn, a braggart who wants to make a name for himself by going after serious contenders. He becomes enraged when ESPN broadcasts a “simulated” bout (by way of computer technology) between Dixon and Rocky Balboa (I’m assuming in his prime). The computer has Balboa winning by a knockout. Rocky is so impressed, he sets out to renew his boxing license. Are we sure he didn’t get permanent brain damage? He’s 60-flippin’ years old! He might have even been over the hill in the first movie.

Boxers, like all athletes, start young and have their peak years before retiring. A boxer’s peak performance has a limited life of roughly five years so, realistically Balboa should have stopped some time after Rocky II. This is when you realize Rocky Balboa was never written to be realistic, even though he did start off as something that felt real, with real issues and real drama. He is then elevated to mythic status for three sequels, crashes back down to humanity in Rocky V, and now he exists as an elemental force as a 60-year-old-man who thinks he can fight a man half his age (though Tarver was actually 38 at the time of shooting—elderly for a heavyweight champion).

Stallone, returning to the director’s chair once again, attempts to strike a subtle balance (like John G. Avildsen) between the drama and the boxing action. This is a Rocky Balboa alone for the first time in his life since the days when he was a thug shaking down people for money lent to them by the local loan shark. It’s interesting how he started off by himself, and will most likely end his life by himself, after having it all: fame, riches, family. He does court a younger woman named Marie, who has a son named Stephenson (or “Steps” as he’s known).

There’s no father in the picture, so Rocky acts as a kind of surrogate; a good, male authority figure (a rarity these days, to be sure) that can provide structure to both Rocky and the kid. That’s all that matters to me. I don’t care about the boxing as much as I care about Rocky having a family, people to care about and who care about him. He does, unbelievably, step into the ring again with “The Line”. Despite all indications that “The Line” will pulverize him and turn him into geriatric dust, Balboa is still standing in the end, but he loses by decision the same way he did in the first movie.

It’s an interesting bookend and a decent sequel that lacks the iconography of the first Rocky movie. I mentioned in my previous review that Jaws: The Revenge has the feel of a made-for-TV movie. The same can be said for Rocky Balboa. Rocky gets closure, and Dixon finally earns the respect of the boxing community, although I really don’t know why you would get respect for beating up a 60-year-old man. The story of Rocky continues in the Creed spin-off movies.

For more Franchise Rewind, visit Second Union!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: