To paraphrase Thomas Wolfe, you can't go home again, but you might be able to visit for a while and enjoy the nostalgia. Sylvester Stallone has consistently used the character of Rocky Balboa to mirror his own career goals. What started as a sincere desire to make the best movie he could make (Rocky) mutated into a thirst be the most successful filmmaker in the world (Rocky II). The sequels continued with III, a film that finds the character and the director attempting to stay on top of the world by not losing his desire; IV, a blatant attempt at self-mythology wrapped in jingoism; and V, an underappreciated, but still unsuccessful attempt to reconnect with the inspiration for the first film. So this time around, in Rocky Balboa, Stallone has finally suffered enough career knocks that he wants to do right by his best and most defining character. As the film opens, Rocky is mourning the death of his wife, Adrian, and attempting to patch up a shaky relationship with a grown son. Never the most articulate of men, Rocky decides that climbing back in the ring might give him the outlet he needs to purge his roiling emotions -- a perfect conceit for a Rocky sequel. Stallone has found a way to approach the simple but powerful theme of his original film: fighting in order to prove something to himself. The memory of the original film, however, constantly keeps Rocky Balboa from being as enjoyable an experience as you want it to be. Stallone doesn't help by constantly referencing sequences and characters from the original, and by including many scenes directly from the first movie in the form of daydreams. There are some very enjoyable moments for the characters that show that Stallone as a director certainly seems appreciative of his cast, and the film itself is an attempt at a warm embrace for an audience that has maintained its loyalty to the character. Taking the entire series of films into account, the character of Rocky Balboa has had numerous experiences that have made him larger than life. He can never again be the common man he was in the first film. By the end of Rocky Balboa, one is left with the inescapable feeling that this film would have worked so much better if it had been the first and only sequel.
by Perry Seibert review