‘But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…’
In the Rocky documentary, Going the Distance, there is a constant narrative around the idea that the Rocky saga somehow mirrors the life of its star, Sylvester Stallone. That is never truer than with Rocky Balboa – the sixth instalment in the franchise. By 2006, Stallone had gone from being one of the most sought after leading men in Hollywood to appearing mainly in sequels or low budget action fare. His star had fallen so drastically that it took years for the studios to even agree to green light the project.
And so it is with Rocky, as we find him, not quite washed up, but still living in the same neighbourhood. The relationship between Rocky and Adrian is the bedrock upon watch the whole franchise is built, so it was a brave move to ***SPOILERS*** kill Adrian off. Braver still to do it off camera. This pays off in spades however and stops an already sentimental franchise from going off the rails. One of the Italian Stallion’s first appearances in Rocky Balboa is at the graveside of his deceased wife and Stallone plays it beautifully both on screen and on the page. The New York actor has never really been given the acclaim that he deserves as an actor but he has always brought a humour and a warmth to the role that keeps people coming back.
Rocky Balboa isn’t perfect however, Mason Dixon is a forgettable antagonist, but Rocky’s biggest fight in this sixth instalment is with himself. It is this fascinating conflict that sets the film apart from the other sequels and ensure that it surpasses all but the first three. Having said that the scene in which the boxing commission grants Rocky a boxing licence based entirely on one of his trademark emotional soliloquies is a little far fetched even for a Rocky film.
Rocky V was an attempt to send an iconic character back to his roots. While it failed on that occasion, it did help to build a foundation on which Rocky Balboa could exist, without the changes in the character being too jarring. Happily, there is no mention of Tommy Gunn and not a ridiculous earring in sight as Rocky Balboa brings some much needed class back to the cinemas most well known Cinderella story.
It is a minor miracle that Rocky Balboa was ever made. It is astonishing that it isn’t rubbish and it is a testament to Stallone and his team that the film ended up being as good as it is. It is difficult to think of a film franchise that can boast such a successful sixth entry, especially taking into account the big gap between the 5th and 6th. Great stuff.