The original "Rocky" film and its three sequels (I refuse to acknowledge that Rocky V happened) all follow a simple formula--we watch a mentally challenged man wander around his carefree life in Philadelphia, decide he needs to get into the ring against some new adversary, and then the climactic fight featuring more drama and powerful haymakers than you'll ever see in a real boxing match. His shrill, mousy love interest Adrian keeps trying to keep Rocky from fighting, as if she wasn't aware that he was a boxer before they met, his louse of a brother-in-law Paulie does some sort of low class buffoonery which Rocky never seems to mind, and the opponents gradually become more evil, from the trash-talking yet sympathetic Apollo Creed to the psychotic Clubber Lang to the let's-face-it-he's-Hitler Ivan Drago.
So finally watching the latest (and maybe last) of the series, "Rocky Balboa", I was pleasantly surprised. The film in many ways was arguably the best in the series--a bittersweet and thoughtful way to cap off the whole Rocky story.
The film finds our hero long-retired from boxing, running a restaurant in Philly and doing the Jake LaMotta thing of entertaining his patrons with stories from the old fighting days. His wife Adrian is dead, and Rocky has a strained relationship with his son. The film follows his mourning and coping, as he strikes up a relationship with a bartendress and her kid.
Meanwhile, the current heavyweight champ, Mason Dixon (who must have beaten a number of colorfully named opponents to get the crown, such as Cumberland Gap, Ohio River, and Radical Reconstruction) is struggling with an image problem, similar to Apollo Creed in the original film. Dixon has beaten a number of cream puffs to win the title and hasn't had a formidable opponent in quite some time (apparently, Cumberland had a glass jaw) and has to endure commentators comparing him unfavorably to Rocky Balboa in his prime. You sort of see where this is going--Dixon and Rocky agree to fight an exhibition match for charity, both helping Dixon's image and giving Rocky a chance to show he's got one last fight left in him. (Dixon's handlers understandably tell him it's "lose-lose" since beating Rocky wouldn't prove much, since the guy is in his 60s)
The fight itself was more realistic than the fights in the other films--the punches sounded more like real punches and less like a grenade exploding, for example--and the tragedy of Rocky's current existence as well as an opponent who didn't come with his own Snidely Whiplash mustache to twirl made the climax all the more compelling. When it ended, it capped off the series the best way it could.
That said, hopefully the dollar signs don't compel Stallone to make another sequel, such as "What if Rocky had to fight against Rambo?" or something stupid like that. "Rocky Balboa" brought things together on a perfect end note.
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