Rocky Balboa (2006)
Dir: Sylvester Stallone
‘Rocky 5’ wasn’t the end! But how do you update and revive a franchise that was dormant for over 15 years?… Bring in a computer of course!
Years after the events of ‘Rocky V’, the now widowered Rocky Balboa is left running his late wife’s restaurant, entertaining them with his boxing stories, and struggling to maintain a close relationship with his son (Milo Ventimiglia). When a computerised fight simulation compares Rocky’s abilities against that of the current heavyweight champion, Rocky considers re-entering the life he missed so much to see if he’s still got what it takes.
This seems to be an easy way of reviving older franchises, by just adding in a modern technology element. In ‘Die Hard 4.0’ there was John McClain up against cyber crime, Here, Rocky is shown in a computer game styled simulation which is the catalyst to get him back into the ring.
Adrian died, apparently she was written as alive in the first draft of the script, but then killed off to add emotional depth to Rocky’s character. Funny how for 5 films he kept saying that he’d never let her go, but for the sake of an easy way to add depth to the character he killed her off. Seems to me like an easy way around the problem of the story not being all that good. Why Stallone didn’t bring in extra help on either the writing or direction I don’t quite know. At least they have kept the same production team.
Milo Ventimiglia is cast as the grown up son, which actually works well visually, there’s just enough of a resemblance there, more between Ventimiglia and the young Sage Stallone in Rocky V than him and Sylvester Stallone, but still you can believe him enough in the role. Sadly though the relationship between the characters becomes far too sidelined for it to be much of an emotionally compelling element of the story, it takes second place to preparing for the fight.
Like ‘Rocky II’ it sets up the opponent straight away, we can all see where this is heading right from the opening. However, in the getting there another storyline is introduced, that of ‘Little Marie’, a character very briefly in the first film, who is now all grown up and becomes somewhat of a friend, and possible romantic interest for Rocky. I found this relationship really odd, she was a kid who he walked home many years ago, he’s old enough to be her father, and rather than being protective as it was then, for me it danced on the line of slightly creepy, especially as it’s never really clear what they are or aren’t to each other.
The end fight is far too edited which takes out a lot of the realistic element of the boxing match, something that the other films didn’t do, they merely used cuts and the odd slow-motion shot. Here everything is messed about with to a greater degree and to the detriment of the impact of the fight, it lessens the impact of the point being made that Rocky despite being older can stand to-to-toe with this new fighter.
I was actively annoyed at the end credits which have people running up the famous steps Rocky used to run up in his training. It looks terribly ill-fitting, far more like something you might do for a featurette about the series and really not something that should be in the film itself.
After returning to this franchise, Stallone went back to his other big hit by making ‘Rambo’ two years later in 2008. However, he hasn’t quite done with this franchise yet. In the past month, it was announced that a Rocky spin-off film is in pre-production, ‘Creed’ will focus on the son of Apollo Creed as he works to follow in his father’s footsteps, likely aided in some way by Rocky who it has been confirmed will feature in the film.
Somehow he still can’t just let Rocky grow old peacefully, every time the character is brought back, there is an increased risk of undoing the hard work put in over decades, and living things on a sour note. Maybe it’s time that Stallone wrote the scene he removed from ‘Rocky V’, and just let the character die.