Plot: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is no longer the world champion, but he keeps active and despite some personal losses, remains an upbeat, positive person. His beloved wife Adrian (Talia Shire) has passed on and he struggles to rebuild the bond with his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), but he is back in his old neighborhood and now runs a nice restaurant. He also still keeps up with old friend Paulie (Burt Young) and even checks in with his old rival Spider Rico, but after so many all out wars inside the squared circle, a little peace is welcome. Of course, he still thinks about his days in the ring and people love to hear his stories, so boxing remains central in his life. When a computer simulation suggests that Rocky could beat current world champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), it sparks a media circus and in an odd twist, Dixon pushes to make the fight happen. The two agree to a charity exhibition, but with his best days behind him and a strenuous training ahead, can Rocky even keep pace with the champ or will he be embarrassed in his final contest?
Entertainment Value: After Rocky V, I think most of the series’ fans hoped for one final, proper installment in the franchise and Sylvester Stallone delivered, as Rocky Balboa is a more than suitable sendoff. The narrative in this one is about what you’d expect from the franchise, as a broken down Rocky once again resists a return to the ring, but finds himself motivated to put up one last battle. As with most movies in the series, this one is quite predictable, but also like most of the others, it still works, because Rocky is such a great character and Stallone brings such passion to the role. This also kind of plays like a farewell tour of sorts, taking us on that last tour of his neighborhood and the colorful folks that populate it. So yes, sentiment and nostalgia run deep in Rocky Balboa, but not to the point where it derails the story and to be honest, the series and character more than deserve this kind of victory lap. There’s no much new to be mined here, but the movie does what the series does best and Stallone brings his all to the table once again, so this winds up as a terrific picture. I’d rank it as the overall best since the original, as it gets so much right and puts the Rocky formula through one last, highly polished run, for a proper and effective finale.
As expected, Sylvester Stallone is fantastic back in the Rocky role and he should be, given that this was his sixth spin as the iconic character. His presence in Rocky V is what saved the movie from being a total loss, but in Rocky Balboa, he is given better material and support. This movie was released three decades after the original Rocky, a length of time that not all actors could just step back into. After all, Rocky as a boxer needs to seem at least a little believable and with him in the ring with the world champion, that need is even greater. Of course, Stallone is no mortal man and looks like an absolute beast here, to the point you almost can’t believe he might lose. He always seems to be in excellent shape, but this is next level stuff. Burt Young is also back for another run as Paulie, with fun and predictable results. I love that the series just lets Paulie wallow in misery, when he isn’t spreading it to others. The cast also includes Talia Shire, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton, Geraldine Hughes, and Mike Tyson.