Despite looking more like his mum than the Italian Stallion we remember from his Oscar-winning 1976 debut, Sly Stallone is back for his sixth, and final, outing as Rocky Balboa.
Having hung up his gloves in the early-90s, Rock now spends his days regaling fans with old stories in a restaurant he set up after his wife Adrian’s death from cancer 3 years earlier.
But there’s still a fire in his heart, or as he puts it “the beast’s still in the basement”, so when a computer program that compares fighters from different eras calculates that Rocky could still beat today’s current champion - Mason “The Line” Dixon – his curiosity is aroused.
And before you know it Rock is back doing what he does best, chinning raw eggs, pumping iron and legging it up those famous Philadelphia Art Museum steps, in preparation for an exhibition bout against the champ.
Good to see that brain damage from episode IV has miraculously cleared up Rock!
The key to being remembered as a great champion is knowing when to go out on top, something Stallone certainly didn’t manage with the execrable Rocky V. It was the cinematic equivalent of seeing Muhammad Ali, once the people’s favourite but now an embarrassing shadow of his former self, being pounded by Trevor Berbick in the last bout of his career.
But in a remarkable rope-a-dope turn around, Stallone has stunned us all with an uplifting, charming and rousing sixth instalment that is a fitting finale to the Rocky legacy.
Sly has gone back to basics, ditching the flashy 80s excess of the sequels and recreating the template of the award-winning original. Using archive footage from episode one and setting all the action on the same Philadelphia streets, Stallone takes us back to the heart of Rocky.
Spending the first half of the movie fleshing out our hero’s character is a masterstroke, as by the time Bill Conti’s iconic theme tune finally kicks in and Stallone begins his training routine the audience is hooked.
Too old for any grace or technique Rocky’s trainer opts for a strategy of “blunt-force trauma … We’re gonna hit him so hard his ancestors are gonna feel it. He’s gonna feel like he just tried to kiss an express train” which leads to a nostalgic montage that sees him knocking out the one-arm press-ups and thumping carcasses in Pauly’s (Young) meat factory.
The climactic fight is expertly handled by Stallone (it was shot in the ring before a Bernard Hopkins world title fight last year), and although his guard still offers about as much protection as Britney’s birth control pills Rocky can still handle himself pretty well at 60.
After writing, directing and starring in Rocky Balboa, it’s no surprise to see Sly also making a generous contribution to this lively special features package. As well as a detailed and intelligent audio commentary – this may surprise some as the majority of the public have always written Stallone of as a bit of an idiot – Sly appears in an amusing “Making of” featurette called “Skills Vs Will” that deals with the difficulties he faced convincing people, including himself, that he was still capable of stepping back into the ring as a sexagenarian.
“Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky's Final Fight” deals with the technical details of the pugilism in greater details, chronicling his 6-month training programme and the final bout at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas.
Also included is a sappy alternative ending and a handful of deleted scenes and bloopers.
Sure there are problems, such as the ridiculous story, some toe-curling speeches and Stallone’s over-reliance on cheesy sentimentalism.
However, Sly has regained some credit as a writer after a miserable recent run and Rocky Balboa is a big-hearted, witty and dignified ending to one of the biggest movie franchises in history.
Staring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Antonio Tarver, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes
Directed by: Sylvester Stallone
Extras: Audio Commentary by Sylvester Stallone, Skills Vs Will, Reality in the Ring: Filming Rocky's Final Fight, Boxing Bloopers, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending