Rocky Balboa brims with cliches and looks like a bad Gatorade commercial and I loved it. Maybe it's because I've only seen the first Rocky, which is near and dear to me, and I'm just so happy to see this character again, even if he is 60 and osteoporotic. In between 1976 and 2006, he's won some heavyweight titles and enjoyed notoriety but is by no means prosperous. He's consumed by the past. He visits Adrian's grave religiously, and tends to her namesake restaurant so he can foist stories of his bygone career on nonplussed diners. My heart swells for him in this state, just like it soared for him in the first movie.
This last installment of the Rocky series follows the same formula as the firs: Underdog agrees to an exhibition match, which soon becomes more than an exhibition. It becomes a test of his endurance and mettle and self-esteem. The one key difference? We don't have Adrian here.
The Adrian-Rocky relationship makes the first movie. Anyone who doubts Sylvester Stallone's abilities as an actor and writer need only look at the scenes between him and Talia Shire in the first movie. They are sweet and true and oh-so-lovely. And when we get to the end of the movie, we see Adrian has gone the same distance as Rocky, and they've met in the middle. It's one of cinema's great endings and revelations. I'm listening to the "Final Bell" track of the Rocky score on my iPod now, and I'm already flying.
Adrian is five years gone from cancer in Rocky Balboa and Stallone is wise to make this absence the sad center of the movie, for there is no franchise without her. Despite the melancholic tone, the movie is funny and self-conscious. Rocky knows it's foolish for him to fight, just as Stallone knows it's foolish for him to make another movie. But wouldn't you know it? They both come from behind, as they always do, as we always hoped they would. I wanted this movie to deliver the same high as the first, but it doesn't, and I suppose that's best. The last image Stallone gives us is of a grave. The roses on top of it are in focus. The man behind it is not. It's a deliberate filmmaking choice by Stallone, who has remained true to his story til the end.