No introduction of that disappointing debacle that was Rocky V (notice no Roman numerals in this one), but plenty of Paulie, pounding hits, and Philadelphia as Sylvester Stallone stars, writes, and directs this worthy fighter into a crowded holiday film market. Many elements and characters end as they began. Stallone doesn’t change the formula much, but there’s still enough originality and compelling drama for the most die-hard fans familiar with the film series.
It was great to listen to everyone reminisce about their personal memories of this film series… the unique feelings of power, courage, and determination. Even during the opening credits, the chants of “Rocky” and audiences pounding their feet on their floor could be heard along with the familiar music and the anticipation of that “warrior that thrills us with his passion.”
Rocky’s journey back to the ring begins with a “Then vs. Now” computer simulation, or as Paulie, again played by Burt Young, calls it, “the fake Looney Tunes fight.” After 30 years since the original Rocky, fans of the original will also appreciate the return of Spider, played by Pedro Lovell, who was also a real life fighter. Audiences might also enjoy some interesting cameo appearances. We also get numerous respectful montages to past characters like Mick, played by Burgess Meredith. Rocky’s son, played by Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes and Gilmore Girls television series) lives in his Dad’s shadow and is predictably primed for real life lessons, culminating in an exterior scene with his Dad outside a restaurant.
“It’s a mean, nasty world that will beat you down if you let it!” Rocky exclaims, encouraging his son to keep moving forward and not blame others or point the finger because your life doesn’t work out the way you want it to. Local shots of Philadelphia and the importance of community reflect Stallone and Rocky living on their own terms – an important parallel that likely provided much of the inspiration for the plot. “I feel pretty good… better than I thought!” Rocky says.
New characters include Marie (a.k.a. “Little Marie”), played by Geraldine Hughes. Stallone takes the time developing a realistic character. Sly does the same for his adversary, the current champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon, played by real boxer Antonio Tarver, who even seeks his original trainer, turning his back on the glitzy world created by his shallow marketing team.
“It’s already over,” Dixon says to Rocky. You know that only fuels the Italian Stallion’s fire. Rocky’s trainer, played by Tony Burton (who’s appeared in all six Rocky films) creates a realistic training program full of “blunt force” and “horsepower.” One of the best parts of previous installments missed here are Burton’s fire filled rants in the corner. There are many heartfelt moments and comic gems like the kangaroo joke and Rocky’s description of “The Bucket of Blood” as a nice place.
Of course, there are serious moments, most notably Rocky’s talk with Paulie in that familiar meat hanger setting. “I never knew it would be this hard,” Rocky says about dealing with his life changing and not boxing anymore. Rocky struggles to decide if he should replace old pain with new pain. Filmmakers understand the cynical audience describing the fight between the current champ and the “ex-ex-ex–champ” as “outrageous and compelling.” Stallone’s home movie-like shots in the ring, flashbacks and grainy cinematography add more realism to Stallone’s amazing physique.
“Welcome to Rockyland!” the announcers exclaim as they fade into the background and the fighting in another dimension does the rest of the talking. The amazing fighting sequences make audiences squirm in their seats as Rocky goes toe to toe and leaves everything out there in the ring. Was it Stallone’s Contender television series that got him back to Rocky, or the chance to give fans another last hurrah? Sly only knows the true reasons, but it’s great to see this Oscar winner create a recommended film that touches the heart with great action and dialogue. Rated PG for boxing violence.