The sixth & final instalment in the Rocky film series, Rocky Balboa is the perfect conclusion of the Rocky saga and is a finale that this iconic franchise always deserved. My favourite of the series, without a doubt, Rocky Balboa remains the only sequel in the series that has the heart, soul & passion of the first film infused in its storyline, features huge improvements in many of its aspects, and pays its homage to the original in a respectable manner.
Set 30 years after the events of the first film, Rocky Balboa follows its titular character who is now long retired, has an estranged relationship with his son, and owns & operates a local restaurant named after his late wife. Things are set in motion when a computer simulation program shows Rocky defeating the current world champion in a boxing match that spikes interest in the public, following which an exhibition match between the two is proposed and finalised as a PPV event.
Written & directed by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa is his best work behind the camera and features the veteran actor in prime form for he approaches the story the same way he did with the original and the film is more of a look back on the life of this iconic figure & his regrets. It falls into the sentimental zone but all of that actually make sense in this story for we see Rocky living with an unsatisfied feeling plus there are numerous references to Rocky that keeps adding a sense of appreciation to what this film is all about.
The screenplay is an unappreciated gem that tackles many topics like old age issues, past regrets, broken relationships, loneliness, an inner hunger to prove yourself one last time & things like that. Add to that, the level of inspiration & motivation that was present in Rocky is very much alive in here as well, perhaps more than it was in any of its predecessors. Even the villain isn’t entirely bad for he’s a frustrated boxer who fails to be a fan favourite despite his boxing talents and this story depicts all of these elements in a sportsmanship manner.
The set pieces are far more refined than anything done in the previous films. Every moment is splendidly captured by its camera which makes great use of angles, lighting, movements & colour tones throughout its runtime, and the final fight is captured just the way any boxing match looks on TV, Editing allows the plot to unravel itself at its own steadier pace but there are still a few moments that could’ve been trimmed. The soundtrack makes use of previous tracks composed by Bill Conti and blends seamlessly into the narrative to give that energetic vibe to the whole picture.
Coming to the performances, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young & Tony Burton return to reprise their respective roles of Rocky, Paulie & Duke, with both Stallone & Young delivering stellar inputs and their arc is equally interesting. The new addition includes Antonio Tarver as the undisputed world heavyweight champion and he does fine with what he’s given. Geraldine Hughes plays Marie, the mysterious little girl Rocky met in the first film, and existing scenes of Talia Shire & Burgess Meredith do appear in flashback snippets. However, this is Stallone’s show all the way and is definitely amongst his finest works.
The boxing choreography is far more impressive than it’s been in any other boxing film, the commentary is another highlight that keeps the momentum going throughout the fight, and excellent camerawork, skillful editing & brilliant use of music makes its final fight an instant classic right away. The training session with “Gonna Fly Now” playing in the background is another memorable moment and then there’s the father-son conversation between Balboa & his kid that hits the hardest punch as far as motivation goes. In addition to that, the final montage is an icing on a cake that concludes this saga on a satisfying note.
On an overall scale, Rocky Balboa is everything a franchise’s final entry is supposed to be and is one of the strongest conclusions of any film series whatsoever. Managing to make its desired emotional impact even if it inclines a bit over the sentimental side, sustaining a calm demeanour until the final act where it just erupts on the screen with relentless fury to give its audience everything it’d been holding inside for so long, and bringing the saga to full circle by giving each character his or her proper resolution, Rocky Balboa is an inspiring, entertaining & utterly rewarding cinema that may not be as influential as Rocky but is just as remarkable as that American classic. Don’t miss it.