16 years is a long time between sequels. Time passes, people change, and sensibilities shift as franchises become memories. Sometimes, though, there’s more story that can be told, and you find there’s a desire for a little more time with a beloved character. And so, we were given Rocky Balboa.
Unlike earlier sequels, this Rocky story not only acknowledges the passage of time, it embraces it. Rocky is a walking relic, a memory of a past time before cell phones and home video game consoles. There’s a touching echo of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock within the character and expresses undoubtedly some of Stallone’s own reservations about how times have changed.
This is Rocky as wise old man, yearning for when the world made sense to him. He came from a tough neighborhood but it seems now that the youth don’t bother with respect to the aged. He encounters it even with his own son, who wishes he’d just fade away. This is Rocky as the model of elder age, making an important statement about the idea that the aging figure before you isn’t a relic, but still a person. No matter how long the shadow may be, they still deserve as much respect and opportunity as when they were younger.
This is Rocky as the champion again of the individual freedom to determine your own life’s destiny. He has come back into the world to remind it that no one can take responsibility for you but you. It’s a stirring statement regardless of your age, and Rocky is one of the best ones to make it.
Rocky Balboa is a true precursor to the current wave of reboots and resurrections from Star Trek to Star Wars to Halloween, Sylvester Stallone figured out how to awaken a retired hero with a rich story that honored the past.
Take note, franchise fans. *This* is how you bring back a hero. Rocky Balboa isn’t trying to subvert expectations about where the character has been, nor where he is going. There are clever nods to what’s come before, without tying itself to expectations of “canon” or heavy dialogue references to the past. It’s just that we lost track of Rocky, and we’re grateful for the chance to check back in with him. It’s not nostalgia or rehash at play here, so much as a sense of getting reacquainted with an old friend.
Even more profoundly, Rocky is that old friend who meant who helped shape your outlook on life and opportunity. You’re happy he’s still hanging in there. He’s had his missteps along the way that we didn’t get to witness, but there’s no burden of having to know every step. We discover his son is estranged because of their inability to communicate. His son considers the shadow cast by his dad’s success to be a burden, and Rocky tries to explain that all he ever tried to give was opportunities he never had.
Rocky’s had losses in the time he’s been gone, as well. Adrian has shuffled off this mortal coil. The fortune we saw him acquire isn’t there, but it’s simply a logical element of time’s passing instead of the labored melodrama of Rocky V. Some things remain the same, though; he’s still true in his core, and he’s still stuck with Paulie as mascot.
It’s worth pointing out the greatest note about Paulie. As Rocky remembers Adrian, Paulie shows remorse for who he’s been and how he treated those he loved. It’s an important and satisfying note for the character, whose behavior earlier in the series is a source of great discomfort as you look back through it. It’s also a reassuring note about Rocky, that his faith to give Paulie the chance to be better, has paid off. Sure, the plot device getting Rocky in the ring again is a little contrived. But in the litany of sins a sequel can commit, it’s minor.
This film is a great gift, especially for long-time fans. There’s no pretense here, and no desire to reimagine what you loved in the first place. If this is your first Rocky movie, you’re still going to be satisfied. If this is your sixth, you’re going to be overjoyed.
There’s a reassured confidence at play, that Stallone uses well. We know why we’re there, and so does he.. We want to see that though we’ve all gotten older, we’ve still got something to contribute. It’s also a treat to see that he’s actually grown as a director, with a real appreciation for his move back to linear storytelling instead of montage shortcuts.
Finally, let’s not forget the greatest thing that Rocky Balboa made possible: Creed.
Which is your favourite movie in the Rocky franchise? Let us know.