The Rocky Balboa movies

I am a sucker for boxing movies with formula plots.

As a whole the Rocky movies are really nothing special, but in their way, they are at least as good, and at moments better, than your typical run of the mill (to use a cliche to describe the cliched) action movies.

I decided to watch all six movies. It had been a long time since I’d seen some of them, and two I had not seen at all. One through three I saw in movie theaters. Four on broadcast TV, shortened for time and content. Five I’d managed to avoid except for the very ending which I’d stumbled across three or four times on lazy Sunday afternoons. I wanted to watch “Rocky Balboa” in the theater, but failed to find the time.

Over the span of a month I rented all six on DVD.

I was surprised that “Rocky” has survived the test of time. The things that date it–clothes, cars, etc.–give it the feel of a recounting of an important event in Philadelphia’s past. The honest ending is still something modern studios should pay attention to.

“Rocky II” still feels like a typical Hollywood sequel. I have always felt that it was the movie that the studio would have insisted that “Rocky” be if Stallone had been on their radar as a box office draw when it was made. I don’t like the “hollywood” ending. Still, I like the movie. Mostly because of the character moments. Even the minor characters grow and change. Burgess Meredith’s Mickey is perhaps my most favorite supporting character.

What a romp “Rocky III” was. Still it is the same formula as the first two movies, just upside down and squished together. Clubber Lang is the Rocky-like character, and Rocky is Creed-ish. Still, it works for me, again because of character growth. I liked getting to see Apollo Creed being more than a limited dimension foil.

“Rocky IV” would not have worked for me if I hadn’t started to like Creed. During this viewing, I finally got to see scenes that get cut when the film is shown on TV. And yes, this is a revenge movie. Yes, it is a rehashing of the plot elements of “Rocky III” taken to an international scale. Yes, the ending was hokey. But… But sometimes I can’t help and wonder if “Rocky IV” put a spider crack in a wall that East Berliners tore down seven years later.

I was told by a friend to avoid “Rocky V”, and I did. I am glad I did. If I had seen it when if first came out I know it would have been a bitter experience. What really saddens me is the potential this movie has. It could have been so much more. The first part of the movie had me hooked. Here was a punch-drunk Rocky, wanting desperately to be a good father and husband, but not understanding how to do that. Stallone played the dementia astonishingly well. Talia Shire was so wonderful. I could really see Adrian struggling with walking the thin line between defending her husband from those who would take advantage of him, and giving her husband the freedom to feel useful; to feel like himself. She did not deserve to be nominated for the Razzie award. About halfway in the movie simply broke. Parts of it seem disjointed. The ending does not fit. Not at all. I see the great movie this could have been, and shake my head.

“Rocky Balboa” was outstanding. It was clear that a lot of effort went into the script. Characterization again was at the forefront, and Stallone even used some of the broken things from “Rocky V” and in doing so gave more credence to, strengthened and (somewhat) fixed the earlier movie. Paulie finally gets his moment to grow and Burt Young portrayed it so well. Elements from all five previous movies were used to define Rocky. There are moments when he is still obviously battling the dementia from getting hammered by Clubber Lang and Drago, but there are also moments where he is still the joke telling, bashful, good-hearted man introduced to us in the very first movie. The climax and denouement worked well. I really like this movie.

As a whole, the series does have some shortcomings. There is not much wiggle room when you have a plot device that allows only two outcomes. Win, lose. On, off. Yes, no. In these movies the moments that worked the best were when “maybe” was introduced or explored. Maybe Rocky will not go the distance. Maybe Rocky is more than a pug. Maybe Rocky has an inflated ego. Maybe Rocky is willing to die. Maybe Rocky can’t avoid who he really is. Maybe Rocky is going to be just fine.

I am glad I did this exercise in film watching. I just might do the same thing with the Rambo series…


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