Thirty years ago, I saw Rocky, a movie so good that any number of bad sequels can be forgiven. (It helps that I never got around to seeing Rocky V.) I saw the last installment a couple of days ago. It was a beautiful piece of art. The famous imagery of the rougher parts of Philadelphia that resonated so clearly in the first film are shot smoothly and fantastically once again. Gone are the bombast and ridiculousness of steroid popping Russians.
What we get in this latest and loving tribute to the legacy of Rocky Balboa is rich character development. We get tender moments and quiet ruminations. And we also get what a lot of people forget was in that first Rocky movie - lots of purposely bad jokes. Rocky, especially when trying to impress Adrian, was always trying to find the humor in everything. Early in that 1976 debut, we hear Rocky play with a few words while looking at his reflection in the mirror. It's a small scene and what he says doesn't make sense. In the next scene, he's at the pet shop and cracks a bad joke for Adrian. It's the joke that he was practicing in front of that mirror in his dingy apartment. The beauty in that has always stayed with me.
Speaking of beauty, there is a long and loving tribute early on to his Adrian (first name "Yo"). She has died of "woman cancer" and Rocky makes a point of visiting all of those memorable places where their love grew over the years. I'm not going to tell you that I cried, but I won't say that I didn't either. It's a great moment for Stallone the director to use this as a way to pay tribute not only to Adrian, but to that first and timeless film of his.
In this year's Rocky Balboa, he is still trying to make people laugh. He's more confident now, but it's still his way of breaking down the defenses of the people he tries so hard to care about. This is a movie that will grab at your heart. Still a bit cliched here and there but worthy of forgiveness for its occasional flaws.
The exhibition fight in the end gets all of the attention that an exhibition fight deserves - not much. It's masterfully shot, reminding me of scenes from Sin City. The opponent is not the bad guy and so the scene is more about the violent hits and the cinematographer's love of the dance than any "good fighter triumphs over bad fighter" nonsense.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have this urge to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.