Okay, I have to say that i was a bit surprised by this film. It's been a while since I saw any of the first five Rocky movies, so I can't say I was really prepared to make major criticisms on the series, but this movie did a shockingly good job of delivering drama and pathos without being bullshit or a total waste of time.
In this day and age, we have the luxury of not having to know or remember why Sylvester Stallone actually mattered in the first place. We have our images in mind of Rocky in the American flag shorts and Rambo in the dirty red headband and they're ingrained to the degree that we'll never forget them. We don't remember why we know who the grizzled meathead is at this point, but he's a punchline and a laughable icon.
Rocky Balboa actually gives us a surprisingly good look at what made Stallone famous and why Rocky made him the icon he was in his time. We forget Stallone as the writer, often heavy-handed in the case of shit like Cobra, but often a very insightful dramatic screenwriter, giving us Rocky and First Blood, films that showed internal emotional struggles in an acute way that we've forgotten through the gloss of sequel cliches and outright mockery. Rocky Balboa shows the same promise of its early predecessors, a balancing act of emotion and character drama. Disgused within this is a movie about boxing, a point that is more or less irrelevant, as the film is about an aging man struggling to come to terms with his irrelevancy and trying to have one last moment in the sun.
Now perhaps I'm making the film seem more highbrow than it is, but it is a well-directed, well-acted study of a mook who just wants to be proud and live his life. And, for its part, it's excellent work. Stallone doesn't put on airs of being the greatest actor or director ever and perhaps moreso than most writers and directors, this story mirrors the arc of his own life. He was a man flying high and larger than life twenty years ago, now trying at a point in his life when most people laugh at him trying to be taken seriously as a beefy sixty-something action star. Does he want a comeback or does he just want our respect?
Either way, Stallone has earned his credit with this stripped-bare, boxing-light version of Rocky's tale, focusing on family, desire, pain, longing, and the aging process in a way that is perhaps shocking when it shouldn't be. He's made a good film, maybe not a favorite or a movie I'll watch over again, but a solid, impressive directorial, writing, and acting showcase. I don't know why people think he can't or shouldn't and maybe we should think again about what the man can offer us.