Stallone did it.
I went in cringing and walked out impressed.
The tone was closer to the first two Rocky movies, but it did it in a way that the fifth movie wasn't able to grasp. One key ingredient: verisimilitude.
They treated the boxing in the film the way boxing is in real life. I know, because I covered and followed the sport very closely for about three years.
Real life boxing personalities pepper the film's cast. For the fight scene, they got the current HBO announcing team of Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Max Kellerman.
They treated the build-up to the fight not unlike movie audiences are treating Rocky Balboa the movie: What, another Rocky movie/fight? There is some reminiscing of the past like in Rocky 5, but it's handled much better. It flows naturally from Rocky the character. It's not nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia the way some of Rocky V played out. In fact, I got choked up quite a few times throughout the film.
The writing is excellent. The monologue from the first Rocky teaser, that some people criticized, shows up in this movie. It plays WAAAAAAAAAAAY better, more powerfully, with more emotional resonance in the context of the movie. The teaser didn't do it justice. The movie does.
If you're a Rocky fan, you have to see it. If your girlfriend/boyfriend aren't Rocky fans or have never seen a Rocky movie, you have to take them.
My 19-year-old girlfriend thinks she has seen Rocky but only as a little girl, so she had a vague, if any, recollection of the series. So vague, in fact, that she even told me that Stallone the actor looked "familiar". And she loved the movie. She cheered, and when the fight started, she told me, "I'm so nervous!" In the end, she also loved the character of Rocky, proving to me that the character's appeal--despite his age and several decades removed from his debut---is still undeniable.
Stallone was great in the role, of course. This is obviously the part he was born to play.
Burt Young is great as Paulie. He gave a nice supporting performance with the right touch of humor.
I was impressed with Antonio Tarver as Mason Dixon. Tarver, as some of you might know, is a real fighter. In fact, I saw him fight once in Miami. He turned in a good performance, which I wasn't expecting since he's an athlete, not an actor. So Tarver deserves a nod.
The movie is inspiring---the winning quality in all Rocky movies.
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not claiming this is Rocky I all over again. This is the sixth movie in what was a tired series when we last saw it, but Stallone breathed new life into it and it's definitely a deserving addition to the Rocky series.
Lastly, there's a moment in the theater that I really, really want to share with you guys. Don't worry, it has nothing to do with the end.
The movie audience was pretty quiet throughout the first half. But when Rocky starts training to the Rocky theme, the crowd came alive and began cheering and clapping. I saw one guy throwing punches during the fight. Another guy was stomping on the ground from what I imagined was excitement of the fight, and nervousness.
I'm not sure Stallone could've made a better part 6 than this.