Author's Note: This is probably the greatest work I have written on a critical subject. Since I am having trouble during my personal writer's strike, I am reproducing the material here. Enjoy!!
This entry is much more serious than the previous posts. I have been known to seek out ways to get under people's skin, but I am generally harmless.
In merely one week, the sixth Rocky film, adeptly titled "Rocky Balboa" will appear in theaters. I originally felt conflicted with the idea that Rocky would come back for "one more round" 16 years after "Rocky V." The main reason for my feeling so was because I felt "Rocky V" effectively capped the greatest boxing film series ever produced. As a perfectionist, you never want to risk ruining a wonderful thing. After more reflection and soul-searching, I have concluded that a new Rocky movie on the 30th anniversary of the release of the original "Rocky" - which won the 1976 best picture - is an exceptionally great idea.
I know there are naysayers out there who parade around like true Rocky fans, all the while criticizing certain portions of the series. Many of these "fairweather fans" take shots at "Rocky V" for ruining the series, or "Rocky III" because Mr. T (not an Acadamy Award winner by any means) stars in it. There are certain critics who dismiss Rocky as an impossibly masculine miscue. There are also many of the rising generation that have been kept in ignorance about what I will term the genius of Rocky.
I wish to educate the critics and ignorant alike with the intention of explaining why each Rocky movie adds to the grandeur of great American films, leading up to the final chance for each one of us to participate in a God-given opportunity to watch the Italian Stallion fight (and I hope defeat) his newest, and toughest opponent yet, Mason "the line" Dixon.
It is impossible not to love this classic film. One must understand the impoverished state Sylvester Stallone found himself under when he was given a shot to become a big-time actor. Not only was "Rocky" a great story of hope for underdogs everywhere, it was a perfect parallel to Stallone and his "million to one shot." Rocky is just a downright good guy. He may not speak as fluently as someone who is learning English as a third language, but regardless, everyone loves to see a good guy succeed. But hold on right there. Rocky gets his chance to fight heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, but Creed wins the decision after 15 rounds of sheer will. Unlike many hero stories, Rocky does not come up victorious. But as long as Adrian comes running when he calls her name, he can get through any setback. Plus, Rocky still has Butkus. And losing only meant a second shot for Balboa. If you don't like this film, you're probably my mom.
The drama unfolds and intensifies magnificently in the second chapter of the series. Rocky marries Adrian and then learns the hard way how unfeeling the professional business world is toward men who have not received more than a sixth-grade education. Adrian exhibits the love of a wife and the pain she feels while watching her husband get his face crushed for 45 straight minutes. She convinces Rocky that fighting is a thing of the past until Apollo starts publishing "Italian Chicken" advertisements in the paper, taunting Balboa. Adrian gets so stressed out, she goes into a coma after giving birth to "the kid" - Rocky's child whose name no one is ever sure of. This could be one of the reasons for the new Rocky.
I've probably described this installment in such vivid language that you stopped reading and went to buy it for yourself. If you are still crazy enough to be reading, one of the greatest scenes of movie history awaits you. Again, in the 15th round, Balboa and Creed both are knocked to the tarp. In gripping, nail-biting slow motion, Rocky somehow has the fortitude to lift himself off the canvas while the spoiled, pompous Creed cannot find the strength. Again, just how people would like things to happen in real life.
For being the shortest film of the five, this one packs a lot in. Take Hulk Hogan, the wrestler, playing the roll of Thunderlips, which has had an impression on this writer for the rest of time. Take Mr. T, the superstar of one of the greatest shows of all-time, the A-Team, as Clubber Lang. Take Mickey, Rocky's manager suffering some sort of heart attack, forcing Rocky to continue without his mentor. Incidentally, you would assume the films would fall apart after losing such a dynamic character as Burgess Meredith, but this not the case. Rocky even gets his own statue and throws his motorcycle helmet at it in rage. Rocky loses to Clubber the first time, but after getting yelled at for acting like a wimp by Adrian, Rocky trains like never before and wins the second go-round. Then he fights Apollo at the end just for fun! How cool is that. Thunderlips, Clubber....what more could you ask for?
If you don't like this one, you're about as pro-America patriotic as Fidel Castro. Rocky's new buddy Apollo gets killed in a brutal exhibition bout with the evil Ivan Drago. Rocky reluctantly comes out of retirement again (something that Michael Jordan can understand) and trains in Russia with primitive gym equipment, while Drago trains with state-of-the art technology. Plus, the stakes are raised when Drago decides to use steriods. Women should love this one just as much as the others because once again, Rocky flounders until Adrian arrives to throw her support in his corner. One other funny point is that Stallone's (then) wife plays the role of Drago's wife, and her haircut matches Ivan's perfectly. Evil russians? Sylvester Stallone has gotten rich out of making them look evil. And what else do you need in a time where Russia (the Soviet Union) was still a serious threat to this country?
How to defend this movie? Easy. I see it as a suitable conclusion as Rocky loses all his assets (thanks to troublemaker Paulie - Adrian's brother) and is obliged to move back to the old neighborhood. He trains an up-and-coming talent in Tommy "the machine" Gunn while ignoring his family responsibilities in the meantime. But in the end, Rocky figures out what's important - his wife and the kid - and he gets to beat Gunn up in the street. He also discovers that the building behind the steps he's been running up for twenty years is actually an art museum. Not to mention the heartwarming flashback scene with Mickey telling Rocky how much he loves him. And a final composition by Sir Elton John while the credits roll and pictures take us through all five movies. What a thing of beauty.
I have only had time to hit on some of the high points on each film. I could talk about a number of other things - the talented actors, the brilliance of the soundtracks - songs like "Eye of the Tiger" and "Training Montage" I feel a bit of apprehension about the quality of this final installment, since the bar has already been set so high. But for those who are true fans, to those who love American classic films, I would wager you will love this one, too. A computer simulation pits Balboa against Dixon and the computer finds Rocky coming out on top. I don't know if the computer game was taking Balboa in his prime, or when he was 60, but Rocky decides to satiate his curiosity. I don't know how the movie ends, but I worry for Rocky, since Talia Shire (Adrian) is not starring in this film. Actually, I just saw some recent pics of her, and I can see why she maybe avoided this one. It would appear Stallone has been using the Botox with much greater frequency.
What is the genius of Rocky Balboa? It is that when you see a regular guy like Rocky get into the ring or live life against impossible odds, and then come out victorious, it makes you believe that somehow it will happen to you, too. So go out there next week, no pain, take his heart, cut him, hurt him, and watch Rocky Balboa. Then come back here and tell me all the reasons you loved it. Take your kids. Old people love him, young people love him, babies love him. If you don't, you don't. This isn't one to wait for to come out on DVD. You have to get to the theater. And if your wife says she doesn't want to see it, tell her about the family lessons you will learn, tell her you will watch "Pride and Prejudice" with her (and hope she forgets), do whatever it takes - and do it like there is no tomorrow.