Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Rocky Balboa (2006)

When Rocky Balboa was released (ten years ago already?) my heart sank. Stallone, seemingly in the grip of a late-mid-life crisis seemed intent on resurrecting his past glories and prove he still had what it took as an action star. So we had a Rambo sequel, and then we had the Rocky sequel. I despaired, and I avoided.

But watching Creed the other week I realised there was something else going on here, something more mature, realistic and elegiac. OK, I still had reservations about seeing an ageing Rocky come out of retirement but Creed - and the rewatches of the original films that I've been doing these past few days - injected some  good will towards this 2006 film.

So, go on Stallone. Entertain me.

Well, he really did. This was a really fitting ode to what originally made Rocky so good. I loved the first 40/50 minutes of this; seeing him living in the past, unable to let go of Adrian's ghost, now that his beloved wife has passed away. It felt right, it felt natural. As did his fractured relationship with his son - now played believably by Milo Ventimiglia - who is (mostly) silently critical of living in his old man's shadow. For the first time in a long time, I actually really believed Paulie as a character. Stallone's script and Burt Young's performance isn't simply 'comic relief' here, and his remorse at mistreating Adrian down the years is truly palpable. There's no redemption for Paulie, beyond standing in Rocky's spotlight and enjoying the small comforts that offers. I really liked the return to the neighbourhood and all the old haunts too and can accept that Rocky would be living the quiet life telling the same stories to the same patrons of a little restaurant in Philly, helping out old pals like Spider Rico - which is a lovely callback to the first film. 

And speaking of callbacks; I was always a fan of that scene from the first film featuring Marie because it showed what a good-hearted if naive lump Rocky could be, so I was delighted to see her character not only return for this movie, but play a significant part in the proceedings too (especially as Marie's character ended up on the cutting room floor in Rocky V) Now played by Geraldine Hughes, Marie is an interesting and sympathetic character for the audience and effectively fills Adrian's role without ever being a replacement for Adrian in Rocky's heart. It's a real shame that Creed did not incorporate Marie's return, along with her son Steps, as more could have been mined here in their relationship to Rocky - especially as, and I don't think it's unfair to say, Stallone largely forgets their character development the minute Rocky gets a whiff of returning to the ring.

Now, it's a bit of a suspension of disbelief to see Rocky go toe to toe with a considerably younger, leaner, fitter man and once again we suffer Stallone's preoccupation with truly dreadful character names (Mason 'The Line' Dixon. C'mon!) but even this benefits from professional boxer Antonio Tarver actually being quite a convincing presence with an ability to handle dialogue, and from some impressive and authentic boxing choreography; at times you really do feel like you're watching a proper bout on TV which is a world away from some of the theatrics of Rocky III and Rocky IV.

So I was wrong. Like Rocky himself, Stallone was entitled to another shot at the big time, and like Rocky, you simply cannot write him off. This proved that there  was life in the Rocky series yet and Creed capitalised on that.

Knockout Rating: 3.5 Punches out of 5

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