Rocky owns a restaurant, Adrian is gone from cancer, and their son is all grown up. Late middle age is the opening theme for this movie, the tendency to look backwards, and an assertion that if the fire still burns within, you have to let it burn.
Rocky’s son was concerned that his father’s mid-life crisis would hurt him, hurt his dignity. But mostly he was afraid that it would make his own identity crisis even worse. His father set him straight. Told him he’ll never have his own life if he blames others for keeping him from it.
Rocky Junior turned around quickly and became his father’s biggest supporter. Steps, son of the new girlfriend, also turned out to be a nice uncomplicated addition to the cast. The new girlfriend, Marie, brought no complications either, only her simple supportive wisdom. (“Hey. Fighter’s fight.”) Even Rocky’s irascible brother-in-law Pauly was drawn into the story’s single stream. Towards the end of the film, nothing and no one mattered at all anymore but the final fight itself. So I guess the fight is what it was really about.
I found the opening scenes very moving. The director seemed to be in love with Philly at dusk in the cold seasons. Rocky’s visits to Adrian’s grave were sad and loving, in a simple sense, not too sentimental. The open-air market where Rocky stocked up for his restaurant was given the attention of a documentary. Rocky took repetitive turns through old memories and old scenes, reminders that on the one hand we can easily get caught ignoring the present by reliving the past, but on the other that as we get older, the future sometimes just hasn’t got a lot left in it. Maybe that’s just me. At any rate, there was a lot going on, but the end of the film left nearly all of it hanging, unresolved.
So was the fight really the point? The adversary was not the most likable boxer, but he turned out to be a decent sort. The venue was the usual over-flashed Vegas resort. The struggle in the ring was portrayed as an incredible display of courage by this somewhat crazy ex-champion, but those of us who’ve never gone toe to toe have to take their word for it. Fighting to the edge of consciousness while following strict rules in a ring isn’t very rational to me. But neither I guess is any sport, where survival skills are altered and morphed into pure contest. So to take the blows and still rise to take more, rather than run off to get better weapons and allies, is regarded as a mark of heart and heroism.
All right, I can dig that. But when it was over, and all those stirred-up emotions had been flattened somewhat by the predictable ending, I was left wondering what the point was. Sure, Rocky was in fabulous shape, and I can see benefits of being in similar shape when I’m pushing sixty myself. Rocky still had “something in the basement” that he had to get out one last time, and I can relate to that as well. But did he? Will he now be satisfied? Will his relationship with his son be healed? Will he find new love so he can move beyond Adrian? What about everyone else, Pauly, and Steps, and Punchy the dog? They were like decorations at this point. Why even have them?
The film was one ending scene too short. What that scene should be, I don’t know. But I still give Stallone a lot of credit. Rocky is not terribly smart, but he’s very likable, he has a undeniable sort of wisdom, when he could be pathetic (re-telling the same old fight stories to the same old customers at his restaurant) he isn’t, quite, he’s just doing what he thinks people want him to do. He’s consistent and believable and likable, and he’s got hella inspiring biceps, so I give Rocky Balboa an overall thumbs up.
(Blockbuster’s got this $1.99 per movie thing going on this week, so there may be more to tell. But already I feel like a schmuck burning up a whole evening to watch a movie, so I don’t know if I’ll get around to the six or so others that we brought home.)