Before Sylvester Stallone breathed new life into the Rambo franchise with a particularly violent new outing, he gave Rocky one more shot with Rocky Balboa and miraculously did not mess it up.
This sixth Rocky instalment should have been a disaster or at least an unforgivably bland retread. Instead, Sly takes what made the old Rocky movies great, updates all the characters to what they would be like in present day and makes it work. He doesn't go down the dumb, "let's make Rocky into James Bond" route Die Hard 4.0 style focusing more on the emotional baggage those much older characters are carrying. Adrian has died, so has Mickey, Rocky's on his own running a restaurant, his son (played by Heroes' Milo Ventimiglia) wants nothing to do with him and although he's got the respect of those people who recognise him as the legendary boxer he is, there's just something missing. Meanwhile, some new boxing champion is dissatisfied with the criticisms he receives that he isn't fighting the best contenders and has it easy. When he is compared to Balboa in a pretty darn rubbish-looking simulated CGI fight and loses, the film builds up to the inevitable real life fight.
The film really goes for the heart rather than mindless one-liners and unmotivated fistfights and luckily that works really well. Sly gets what the working core of the Rocky movies was and updates it appropriately. Some of it is somewhat cheesy and predictable but come the final fight, you'll be hooked. Yes Antonio Tarver's champion isn't quite as memorable of an opponent as Drago or Apollo Creed but Rocky Balboa really doesn't go for the OTT lols of Rocky III or Rocky IV instead sticking closer to the original film and Rocky V, both of which were more about the drama linking the characters to each other than cliched shits and giggles. That said, you do get the sacred gratuitous training montage and it is as glorious as you'd expect. Top marks also to Stallone for actually giving his most respectable performance in a while and making this a convincing and worthy addition to the Rocky franchise.
Overall, Rocky Balboa isn't the best of the bunch but it's a surprisingly decent revisiting of a long dormant series. The film isn't entirely necessary but as it stands: it's well made, well acted and its heart's in the right place.