The Rocky saga comes to a close with this subdued yet effective (and affecting) entry, with the low-key narrative detailing Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) post-boxing existence and, eventually, his decision to step into the ring one last time. Filmmaker Stallone, working from his own screenplay, devotes much of Rocky Balboa‘s opening hour to the title character’s melancholic exploits, as the iconic figure, though still a celebrity within his Philadelphia environs, is grieving the death of his beloved Adrian and, as well, unable to form a concrete bond with his twentysomething son (Milo Ventimiglia’s Robert). The sober, character-study atmosphere is generally far more compelling than one might’ve anticipated, and although the narrative occasionally moves a little more deliberately than necessary, Stallone does a nice job of peppering the proceedings with unexpectedly heartwrenching moments and interludes (eg Rocky’s inability to move past Adrian’s death dismays Burt Young’s Paulie). It’s clear that the film improves substantially once it arrives at around the one-hour mark, with the inclusion of a riveting confrontation between Rocky and Robert paving the way for a third act that is, not surprisingly, centered almost entirely around a climactic fight. (There’s little doubt, too, that the requisite training montage provides the movie with a burst of energy that carries it through to the bittersweet conclusion.) And although Stallone’s emphasis on low-rent, HD-level visuals, coupled with camerawork that’s often aggressively flashy, drains some of the excitement from the pivotal brawl, Rocky Balboa has nevertheless established itself as a strong capper to an admittedly uneven series – with Stallone’s consistently engrossing work standing as an ongoing highlight within the saga.
*** out of ****