It is hard to believe it has been thirty years that we have been being regaled with the saga of Rocky Balboa. Loosely based on figure and character of the real life boxer Rocky Marcioni, we have now had six installments of this story, with the last one being by far the best, with the possible exception of the first one. Somehow Sylvester Stallone has breathed new life into this tale and it is refreshing, to say the least after the debacle that was Rocky V. Fortunately enough that movie is over a decade and a half old and forgettable, so this new episode will in fact garner many new viewers for the series of films who do not know the legacy, both good and bad.
Christianity Today, on its website has an interesting interview with Stallone, now 60 and a professed Christian. Much of the interview is about how art imitates life, specifically Stallone's own life with its ups and downs. We see Rocky crossing himself before his last fight, we see him praying, we see his friend and fellow former fighter reciting a Bible verse about relying on the Spirit rather than his own might, but this movie is mostly about heart and human determination. But even though the Christianity is only a small element in the story, it rings true to the character of Rocky, who is indeed a stand up guy with an iron chin.
Unlike some of the earlier Rocky films, this one has some genuine pathos for those who know about the special relationship between Rocky and Adrian (remember "Yo Adrian"). Adrian unfortunately has died of cancer, and Rocky is haunted by her memory. He lives mostly in the past and he visits his former wife's grave regularly. They had one son, who is uncomfortable living in the shadow of his father the former boxing legend. Rocky now owns and operates a restaraunt named Adrian's (of course), where he hosts and tells stories and poses for pictures for those who want them. But there is a deep sadness in Rocky and a restlessness that goes beyond his loneliness and loss of his wife. He believes, even at sixty, that he could still fight. Now before you say--- No Way! Stallone is 60 and he did fight in this movie a real world champ, Antonio Tarver, and he took some serious punches. Tarver says he was told not to simply pull his punches, like this movie which pulls no punches.
America of course loves the story of an underdog made good, we were raised on fairy tales like "The Little Engine that Could" after all. But there is something really winsome and compelling about this episode of the story, which is not mainly about boxing (there is only one exhibition fight at the end of the movie). Its more about life and moving forward even when life knocks you down. In a sense it is a parable about what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4.8-- "we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed." That's Rocky in a nutshell-- he is resilient and indefatigible, and many of us who are over 50 can identify especially well with this installment of the series. Rocky will not go quietly into that good night-- and we are glad he doesn't. He does not age gracefully, he ages vigorously grabbing for all the gusto he can get.
There are various subplots to the story which I will not spoil for you, but I will tell you that this is one of the better movies released this Christmas, and while it may not get an academy awards (unlike the first Rocky movie which beat out some superb films for best picture of the year in 1976), it certainly is a fitting conclusion to a heartwarming story and at less than two hours there is no filler, all substance.
What's next for Stallone? Well apparently since he has new cinematic life he is working on a conclusion to the Rambo series-- Rambo rescues Christian missionaries in a third world country, believe it or not. In the mean time, suspend your disbelief and go see this movie. It will make you smile quite a bit, and maybe even cheer as many did in the theater I saw it in, in Lexington. "We are but a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor".
Merry Christmas Rocky, we hardly knew ye.