And so we reach the final instalment of the Rocky franchise (so far). Rocky’s back in his Philadelphia neighbourhood and Adrian’s kicked the bucket in the intervening years, meaning Balboa now runs a restaurant with photos of his dead wife creepily plastered on every wall. To fill the void in his life, Rocky decides to step back into the ring, and is approached by reigning heavyweight champ Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver) to fight one last exhibition match on the big stage.
With Adrian out of the picture, Rocky trades her in for a new model, with Marie (Geraldine Hughes) taking the role of his love interest. It’s a shame, when actually having no love interest at all would have been better than someone who so clearly can’t fill Adrian’s shoes. I guess no-one could believe that someone could find a woman in her fifties attractive. As if to drive home the age gap, it turns out Marie is the kid Rocky walked home in the first film.
Ever since Rocky III each installment has had to kill off a character to provide Rocky with a motivation to fight, but it’s a shame Adrian had to be cruelly dispensed of offscreen. Paulie’s still around though, much to everyone’s delight, and is on form as the uncompromisingly unpleasant contrarian we’ve grown to love.
Stallone likes to write from what he knows. Rocky was inspired by his time as a down-and-out actor looking for work, Rocky II was inspired by his having to deal with his new-found celebrity, and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! was, I assume, inspired by his crazy mother. And the restauranteur Rocky of Rocky Balboa, who trades on his celebrity image and the chance to chat with a star, could well be inspired by the actor’s misguideded Planet Hollywood venture. Whatever his inspiration, it works well and results in him giving his best performance since Rocky II. He is at his most unintellible in full on ‘yougonnaneedsubtitiles’ mode, a welcome nod to the franchise’s earlier instalments.
While the first half is fairly dreary and gazes back at the franchise’s glory days, the second makes us finally care about Rocky again, so when the final bell rings we’re on our feet cheering too. It’s as good a spectacle as could be expected, with Stallone in incredible shape for a man then nearing his 60th year.
There’s a welcome return to the Rocky theme music of parts one and two which gives the film a nostaligic feel and results in it being a far better send-off than piecemeal Rocky V or dismally bad Rocky IV. If you want my advice go straight from Rocky II to Rocky Balboa, then you’ll have the most well-rounded Rocky trilogy.
It’s clear that Stallone has the same affection for Rocky as his fans, and wasn’t happy to see him make his final goodbye in a terrible movie. Rocky Balboa is a fitting send-off, successfully reigniting the spirit of the days when the franchise was reigning champ.