Rocky Balboa ***1/2

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Stallone is Rocky in "Rocky Balboa"

Who would have figured that there could be another “Rocky” movie?  Who would have thought that Stallone would get the money to give it one last shot in the ring?  And who knew that if it did get made, that it could be this good?  Yes folks, this is one of the best movies of the season.  It is superbly acted and amazingly directed.  Stallone has brought Rocky back down the streets, and given him a real story to cap off this franchise once and for all. 

It has been sixteen years since we last saw a “Rocky” movie, and since then he has retired, and owns an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.  His beloved wife Adrian has died of cancer and his son has become distant to him.  The movie opens with a touching trip down memory lane as Rocky visit’s Adrian’s grave on the anniversary of her death.  He also makes his annual trip around town to where they had spent time together.  There are some nostalgic touches here as Stallone splices in ghostly images from the first movie.  You can see that Rocky has really been wounded since she died. 

Meanwhile he runs a restaurant, and spends most of his nights there, entertaining his guests with stories of fights from his youth.  The walls are covered in pictures from his golden days, as well as some of the trinkets from his achievements.  But he still has that hole from losing his wife whom he loved so much.  One night he stops at a local bar where he meets Marie played by Geraldine Hughes.  Marie was the little girl he walked home in the first “Rocky”.  Now he finds her working in this dump, and has a teenage son.  He gets close with her, but it is not about romance or sex.  He likes her presence.  He misses that female aura that he loved so much.  He offers her and her son a job at the restaurant which they reluctantly take. 

At this point the movie is quiet, touching and I was sucked right in.  You can really feel the history of the series in almost every scene.  That is the work of a good director.  But besides his personal life, Rocky is all about boxing.  He misses being in the ring.  He misses the energy.  He feels a burn in his gut to see if he still has what it takes.  Then one night, the world witness’ a digital boxing match between the younger version of him and the current heavy weight champion, Mason Dixon.  Mason is not a bad man but he is hated by the boxing world simply because there is nobody out there who can seriously challenge him.  After he gets his butt kicked digitally, the media is stirred in to a frenzy and a match is created between Rocky and the current champ. 

But the former champ is quite old.  Does he still have what it takes to get in to the ring with faster, younger Dixon?  You will have to see the movie to find out.  What I will tell you is that after the match is announced, there are some familiar touches for you Rocky enthusiasts.  Of course this involves a training montage where he jogs, lifts weights, and get himself back in to shape in order to fight.  Once in the ring, you can really see how Stallone has aged since the first movie.  Now don’t get me wrong, he is in great shape, but he is 60 years old and it shows. 

Now the fight it self is good, but it is the weakest part of the movie.  For me I loved quieter moments.  I loved the story of the retired champ, how he is wounded by loss, and constricted by age.  I loved the scenes where he tries to reach out to his estranged son, or when he connects with Marie and her son.  What this proves is that Stallone was once a great actor, and still has what it takes to hold the screen.  In fact, this is one of his best performances.  But he is also a great director.  Here he shows a steady hand.  He never lets the spectacle overshadow the smaller story or the characters.  This was a downfall of some of the earlier “Rocky” films.  No, this time he pays tribute to the legend of Rocky, and puts a cap on a series that has spanned generations.

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