Sylvester Stallone believed that he was negligent when he made Rocky V, as it left both him and his fans disappointed as the end of the series. So that’s where Rocky Balboa comes from and much like other movies Stallone has made, the storyline mirrors his own struggles and triumphs.
Rocky is still living in the same Philadelphia neighborhood, but now he’s a widower. He runs his own restaurant named Adrian’s named after his ex-wife. Two characters from the past return — Marie, a younger and troubled woman, and Rocky’s first opponent, Spider Rico.
First off, how does Rocky fight again after how bad he was in the fifth movie? Let Sylvester himself tell you: “When Rocky was diagnosed with brain damage, it must be noted that many athletes have a form of brain damage including football players, soccer players, and other individuals in contact sports such as rugby, etc. Rocky never went for a second opinion and yielded to his wife’s wishes to stop. So with the advent of new research techniques into brain damage, Rocky was found to be normal among fighters, and he was suffering the results of a severe concussion. By today’s standards Rocky Balboa would be given a clean bill of health for fighters.”
Rocky does more than fight a new boxer — Mason “The Line” Dixon, played by real boxer Antonio Tarver — he’s also battling grief and to stay in the life of his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Paulie (Burt Young) is still in his life, but he’s dealing with the end of his work life and the guilt he feels over how he treated his sister while she was alive.
One night, Rocky reconnects with a woman named Marie, who he once escorted home when she was in her teens. She has a son named Stephenson who takes to Rocky as well and this helps him through his pain.
But who is Mason Dixon? He’s a boxer that the public has turned on and an ESPN story where Rocky would defeat him in a computer simulation. This reminds him of what his old trainer told him: if he wants to gain respect, he needs to earn it through the right opponent.
This starts Rocky back in the ring, as Dixon’s promoters pitch the idea of holding a charity exhibition bout in Las Vegas. The story is that Rocky is a has been and Dixon may be a never was, but the public falls in love with the story.
The best part of this movie is when Robert tells Rocky that his father’s shadow has caused him to fail. The hero takes a step and unleashes a speech that I have seen on so many walls: “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!” I can’t even read these words without getting emotional.
At Adrian’s grave, Rocky and Robert come together. Our hero starts training again with Apollo Creed’s old trainer, Duke (Tony Burton), who explains that Rocky can’t win by speed any longer, so he has to increase his power.
The fight goes the full ten rounds and ends with both men standing. Rocky lands the last punch (and wins the fight in an alternate cut of the film). Rocky thanks an appreciative Dixon for the match, which has given both men exactly what they need.
The movie closes with Rocky at Adrian’s grave, saying “Yo Adrian, we did it. We did it.”
As disappointing as Rocky V was, Rocky Balboa is perfect. If this was the end of the Rocky saga, it’d be a fine close. However, the character would continue in the Creed movies. This was an emotional watch for me and quite cathartic.