From an auspicious start, the Rocky series steadily plummeted, sinking
further with every effort, as reflected in the IMDb ratings for each
Rocky (1976) 7.8
Rocky II (1979) 6.3
Rocky III (1982) 5.8
Rocky IV (1985) 5.5
Rocky V (1990) 4.0
I'm not sure that the above snapshot gives a completely accurate
picture of the trend. Maybe the road downward had a short uphill
stretch in the middle. I seem to remember that Rocky IV wasn't such a
bad picture. At any rate, the start and finish points are identified
with reasonable accuracy, and the gap between them represents a truly
monumental disparity. The 7.8 level represents all-time greatness, the
territory of Oscar's Best Picture, which in fact Rocky was. On the
downside, 4.0 is a B-movie. And not even a good B movie. To place it
in perspective, Roddy Piper's Hell Comes to Frogtown is rated 4.6.
The point here is that Stallone has miraculously
turned it around. Rocky VI (Rocky Balboa) is currently rated 8.0, and
that's not an unreasonable score. It may eventually drop a bit, but it'll
stay close to the first Rocky film and above the second one. It's a resonant guy-movie. When Stallone first
announced this project I thought it was utter bullshit, especially
when he leaked that Rocky would not be a manager or a trainer, but
would be getting back in the ring with the current heavyweight champ.
I figured it was just a shameless attempt to milk the franchise one
I was wrong.
Whether you like the film or not, you will see
that Stallone did not write this one from the checkbook. It came
straight from the heart. It may seem saccharine or cloying to many
people, but for better or worse Stallone's heart is being worn right
up there on Rocky Balboa's massive sleeve. Watching it reminded me so much of the
down-to-earth sincerity of the first film, the one that made the
fictional boxer and his creator very famous men. Stallone basically
took the feelings he and his generation have about getting old and
projected those feelings into his uber-mensch, Rocky Balboa. The kind
of heartfelt words spoken by Rocky would sound fulsome coming from
just about any other character ever written, but this is dumb,
kind-hearted, unguarded, guileless Rocky. He can get away with it.
I think I can best review the film by telling you
what went through my mind as I watched it. When Rocky was reminiscing
about his first dates with Adrian, I vaguely remembered those scenes,
but what came pouring back to me was the day I went to see the first
Rocky movie with my first wife. We had been living in Florida for many
years, and Christmas of 1976 was our first trip back to our home town
of Rochester, New York. It was the first time my parents would see
their grandsons. My mom and dad were young then, younger than I am
now, and they wanted the boys all to themselves. This was fine with me
and Katie since, as parents of a two year old and a four year old, we
probably hadn't had time to ourselves in years. On our first free afternoon
in years, we saw Rocky, and loved it.
That was, for me, many lifetimes ago. I've been
through so many relationships, lived and worked in so many different countries.
Those two little boys are now in their thirties.
But after all those lifetimes, Rocky is still up
there on the screen, still basically the same guy. When he was talking about the past, with the
Rocky theme music playing lugubriously in the background, I wasn't
really seeing those scenes from his past, but scenes from my own past
which occurred on the very same day that I first saw the Adrian scenes
which Rocky was recollecting. I have to say that the movie worked.
It got me to dig deep inside myself, and in perfect parallel with the
film! Rocky and I were old friends, remembering the same day together.
Then later, as Rocky was planning to get into the
ring again, I was reminded of all the young guys who give me no
respect on the sand courts. (I still play 2x2 volleyball.) Rocky got
into the ring despite the fact that he is totally lacking in speed. I
get out on the court even though I'm totally lacking a vertical. I'm
6'2" and have an 18" vertical. I play against guys four inches taller,
with arms four inches longer, and with verticals exceeding 30 inches.
Obviously I can't crowd the net like the young guys do. I have to find
a different way to win, or at least to compete. Rocky is out there
against a taller, faster man with longer arms. He's got the exact same
problem I have. He has to find a different way to compete. You know
what? Rocky is out there fighting for me. I can feel that, deep in my
gut. More than ever, Rocky is my generation's surrogate.
So does the film work for me? You bet it does.
Stallone took the regrets of my generation, as well as its remaining
dreams, and poured them into a character we already knew, a lovable
bum who is already part of our life's history, a fictional fighter who
feels like an old friend. Damn, I wanted to comfort the guy when he
was at the cemetery.
Yeah, it works. Now if you'll excuse me, I seem
to have something in my eye.