Nostalgia’s a hell of a thing. When it comes to movies we see the nostalgia trend rearing its head all the time with the constant stream of remakes and sequels. Especially sequels to old franchises that were seemingly already over.
Familiarity gets people into cinemas. People like what they already know. This even applies to original movies when they’re usually described in terms of movies that already exist e.g. its Inception meets The Bourne Identity = The Adjustment Bureau according to the posters. Now I haven’t seen The Adjustment Bureau but from what I hear that is not true. It’s apparently more like one shit film meets another shit film.
Nostalgia is the driving force behind Rocky Balboa. It’s a brave movie in the sense that Stallone basically remakes Rocky I thirty years later with the same cast. And it works. I went into this film with mixed feelings after the end of Rocky V. I was disappointed in the ending of Rocky V so needed something better to leave the Rocky saga with but at the same time knew from the trailers that this was a remake of Rocky I and there was that nagging feeling that Stallone’s age/ego was going to be a factor that ruined it.
I couldn’t imagine they were going to have sixty year old Balboa go into the ring with a young champion and beat him but then what would be the point of it if he fights the kid and the kid ruins him. Would Rocky die in the ring like Apollo? Would that be a fitting ending? Maybe. I wasn’t sure and I also worried if this was going to be one of those late sequels that blew it.
There’s a lot of these sequels that have been decades in the making that have started coming out. Stallone made two very close to each other with Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. I haven’t seen John Rambo but I heard good things.
I am a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fan. I can see its flaws and after reading the original Darabont script I know that it could have been great but for me I was just happy to see Indy on the big screen again (it helped that I watched Raiders and Last Crusade right before seeing it, ‘What about Temple of Doom?’ I hear you cry. Fuck Temple of Doom.)
Die Hard 4.0 was alright but it seemed like they had forgotten the appeal of John McClane was that he was a loner who, with meager resources, managed to beat Alan Rickman and a group of Eurotrash terrorists with no shoes and a vest. By Die Hard 4.0 he was superhero being chased by fighter jets that were somehow controlled by computer hackers. Weird.
Let’s not talk about the Star Wars prequels.
I skipped Terminator Salvation after an interview with McG where he was boasting about the fact that you would see the origin of Kyle Reece’s shoes from The Terminator. I don’t go to films to see the origin stories of clothes and I don’t watch films made by people who are just trying to prove to the audience that they have also seen the original movie.
Prometheus looked badass but was terrible. A lot of characters performing actions that lacked meaning or consequence and a stupid ending.
Right, with that off my chest, back to Rocky Balboa.
The film begins with Rocky waking up and going to see Adrian’s grave. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the killing off of Adrian but I liked it. I missed Talia Shire but at the same time the theme of this movie was people being stuck living in the past and having Adrian dead and Rocky not being able to let her go was good and really rooted him in his past glories. He takes Paulie on a tour of their neighborhood basically recapping Rocky and Adrian’s courtship from Rocky I but Paulie doesn’t care and gives Rocky some guff for living in the past.
So Rocky goes to work at a restaurant called Adrian’s. The restaurant was cool. All pictures from the previous films on the wall and Rocky going table to table telling boxing tales. I could get on board with that.
Now at the same time we see that Rocky’s stuck in the past we meet the future in the form of new champion Mason Dixon. But Dixon has a problem. It’s a very Rocky-ish problem. He doesn’t have Heart. He fights like an animal and has no class. The fans don’t like him. The sports TV dudes don’t like him. He’s rich as shit but he gets no respect.
Now this all culminates in a show on ESPN where they pit fighters who could never meet against each other via computer program and see who would win. So we a CG fight between at-his-peak Balboa and Dixon and Rocky wins.
This stirs something up in Rocky and he applies for his boxing license, gets rejected, gives a rousing speech, gets approved. News of this filters back to Dixon’s people and against his will they set up a fight with Balboa, saying that it shows respect and nostalgia is a big money-maker.
At the same time Rocky reconnects with his son who worries about living in his father’s shadow. Rocky gives him a big speech essentially calling him a pussy.
Rocky gets back into training and they was awesome because as I’ve said before I’m a sucker for the Rocky training montages and having Gonna Fly Now back as he runs through Philly was all kinds of satisfying. And I was watching the film I was starting to be filled with a sense of dread. I had given quite a lot of time to watching these films. There had been highs and lows but basically now as I watching Balboa run through the seats with that music pumping in my ears I was actually feeling a bit sad that the journey was coming to an end.
Before the final fight the two fighters square off and it seems as though Dixon wants to go easy on the old man, informing him to just give up because it’s over and Rocky says, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’
Masons says, ‘What is that from? The eighties?’
And Rocky replies, ‘More like the seventies.’
And that put a giddy little smile on my face.
The final fight was filmed in an interesting way. It seemed like the rest of the film was filmed on film but the final fight was digital HD like when you watch a pay-per-view fight. It was also sort of filmed like you were watching a televised boxing match, which was awesome.
The fight starts with Rocky getting his ass handed to him but through the use of Heart and the fact that his opponent breaks his hand on Rocky’s hip (fake hip?) Rocky manages to give a good account for himself and it’s a good fight.
For me the best two parts of the fight were when Rocky’s son says something along the lines of ‘Everyone thought this was a joke, including me, but no one’s laughing now’ and Rocky goes out and continues raining punishment on the champ and then just before the last round of the fight Paulie’s in the corner with Rocky and says to him:
Here it is, Rock, last round of your life.
Which I thought was a great little line.
But Rocky loses on points, which is fine, and the champ proves that he’s got Heart by fighting with a broken hand, which is fine, and the movie ends with Rocky at the graveside of his wife and he says, ‘Hey Adrian we did it.’
Which corrects a line that annoyed me in Rocky II when Rocky is screaming, ‘Hey Adrian, I did it.’ I feel like if you’re going to name check your wife, include her in the glory. Keep in mind for those of you at home keeping score, Adrian nearly had a miscarriage worrying about Rocky getting killed in the ring in Rocky II. And it was from her support that he managed to get his ass whipped into shape to beat seven kinds of shite out of Apollo Creed (I miss Apollo Creed) but at least once she was dead he could acknowledge her part in his victory.
Now earlier I talked about the idea of the many trilogies of Rocky films. If I was to tell people to watch these films I would probably say, yeah, stop watching at Rocky III. You get a nice sense of the films from that. You get an underdog story, you get rocky becoming the champ, you get Mr. T, you get Apollo Creed’s arc from villain to hero, and you get to see some redemption. However if you wanted someone to watch the films and that person wanted three films to watch late at night with beer, friends and pizza then I would suggest starting with III and finishing with V. Those films are the crazy ones and that way you get Mr. T again, Paulie’s sex robot, the Apollo Creed/Rocky homoerotic montage, Russians!, Ivan Drago, street fighting, MC Hammer on the soundtrack and all manner of crazy eighties montages.
For me however I think the best way to do it, and this is really for people who have seen the films previously or have someone who can fill in the blanks for them, is to watch Rocky then Rocky III and then Rocky Balboa. You get the grittiness of Rocky with the pantomime of Rocky III (which is subdued pantomime in comparison to IV and V) and then the ending of the saga in the excellent Rocky Balboa.
So that’s it for the Rocky films. This post was super, super late because I had written the first five Rocky films up and got no response from readers so moved onto writing challenges and such and it was only today I saw on my flash drive that I had some unfinished projects that I wanted to clear from my computer and lo and behold I had this half finished (I need to edit the Prometheus because it had been written before I had seen the film and it reflected my misguided hope that it would be good and not the cinematic insult it turned out to be).
They says it ain’t over till its over.
And now it’s over. And I went the distance. I wouldn’t say I have Heart just yet but I’m still not 100% what having Heart means.
Previously on The Rocky Saga: