Being a Rocky fan since the age of 6, I was eager and a bit apprehensive as I set off for the local theatre to see the sixth and (purportedly) final installment in the Rocky series, Rocky Balboa (aptly titled as the film harks back to Rocky’s earlier years; of course, it also allowed Stallone to get around using the number 6 in the title). As I sat in the theatre I wondered what the critics would say about this, the last triumph of Sly Stallone and his character Rocky. Being taken back to the places and faces of the early Rocky movies I almost felt as if I was revisiting people and places in my own past. Walking with Rocky to the pet store where he courted Adrian (now deceased), the steps to his old apartment, Mickey’s gym, and the remains of the ice rink where he and Adrian had their first date underscored the emotional attachment that exists between this character Rocky Balboa and myself (and millions of other people). Accepting Rocky as a middle-aged restaurateur whose son his grown and whose friends are now senior citizens isn’t comfortable; perhaps because it includes (to a certain extent) accepting that we ourselves have aged, and changed, and lost.The premise of the film, which centers around Rocky’s desire to deal with his ghosts by fighting the reigning heavyweight champ, isn’t all that far fetched; of course the fact that the champ’s own doubts and demons move him to offer Balboa a shot at the title that was once his and the proposal that Rocky is still physically up to the challenge is another story. Then again, how realistic was Rocky to begin with? Is being realistic what enabled this character to connect with so many for so long? In addition to the always popular “underdog” quality associated with million to one odds and severe stretches of possibilities in regard to the “real world”, the re-introduction of Rocky to movie-goers is a welcome reminder of things that are simple and good. People of all ages can watch this film and be reminded of the importance of kindness, faith, love, and perseverance, as well as how precious these things are through the trials and tragedies of life; this movie isn’t typical of we get from modern-day Hollywood, which is one of its charms.As I watched the aged Stallone embark upon the training sequence (which everyone in the theatre expected and recognized as leading into the final confrontation), prefaced by the requisite inspirational speech, given in this case by Rocky veteran Tony Burton (originally Apollo Creed’s trainer, and which, I might add, is one of the better moments of performance in this film, as the gray-haired Burton manages to be exuberant, serious, hilarious, and inspiring, all at the same time), I accepted that there wasn’t much here to prevent the “I told you so’s” from the those who warned that Rocky should have retired after single-handedly bringing an end to Russian-American tensions in Rocky IV, if not sooner. To his credit (financially as well as artistically), Stallone takes a simple no-frills approach, taking us back to where it all began. The over-production evident in Rocky III and Rocky IV is nowhere to be found, and almost results in the film being somewhat anti-climactic, though a bit more realistic in terms of the little things. Stallone softens the earth shattering sound effects that previously occurred with each punch, and undersized gloves aren’t used to give the fighters more intimidating physiques (for the first time since Rocky the fighters actually look like fighters instead of body-builders); the result is a more understated boxing experience as compared to that of previous Rocky films. Stallone draws heavily from the original Rocky, even bringing back characters from the 1976 classic (you’ll have to watch it yourself if you want to know who). This adds to the nostalgic feel of the movie while simultaneously serving as a reminder that thirty years have passed since we first met Rocky Balboa as a kind-hearted mob collector / small-time fighter bouncing his ball along the cold streets of South Philly. The old characters are balanced with the introduction of Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver) and his trainer (Henry G. Sanders) and confederates, who do their best within the confines of Stallone’s script to exert their presence. Tarver and Henry don’t to badly with their roles, even managing a few poignant moments despite having the pressure of being compared to the engaging performances given by previous nemeses of the “Italian Stallion”. Burt Young is, as always, inimitable as “Paulie”, and Milo Ventimiglia isn’t bad as Rocky’s grown-up and stressed-out son. Cameo appearances are made by a few people, including Gunnar Peterson, Lou DiBella, and even Frank Stallone; Joe Frazier’s cameo appearance in the original Rocky is countered with a brief appearance by Mike Tyson, which is one of many moments in the film that serve as comedic relief.All things considered, Stallone and confederates don’t do too badly with the difficult task of making a sixth Rocky that is watchable, let alone inspiring or endearing. Considering the understandable ridicule that his proposal for yet another Rocky film had drawn, Stallone should be commended for his ability to employ a mix of simplicity, cleverness, and humor (even self-depreciating at times), held together by the tried and true salience of Rocky Balboa as a character to pull this off; in essence, he sticks with what made Rocky a classic in the first place and the result is a movie that “ain’t so bad” after all. As you might expect in the sixth revision of a story and character that first captured the hearts of America and the world thirty years ago, this film is a critic’s nightmare (or dream come true), depending on how cynical a point of view one takes in regard to movie critics. The plot is simple and far from original, the acting far from stellar, and the technical aspects of the film are not of Oscar-type quality by any stretch of the imagination. The characters are strong in many ways, but not nearly as strong as they were thirty years ago. The music isn’t daring or new, just the same range of despairing through triumphant (with a splash of hip-hop thrown in to keep it somewhat culturally relevant) that has long become recognizable to ears and hearts around the world. Simple? Yes. Old? Absolutely (no pun intended). Unoriginal and predictable? Well…yes, this is, after all, a Rocky movie. We could go on indefinitely with this line of questioning, but the fact is that no one went to Rocky Balboa expecting to see great acting or dazzling special effects. In the mind of the critic this film will never be comparable to cinematic achievements such as Dances With Wolves, Schindler’s List, or even Star Wars, but in the hearts of the common folk Rocky will always be a winner, and for exactly the same reasons as the critics find Rocky Balboa unpalatable. In Rocky, the underdog in all of us (I should say most of us) can still find an icon of humble determination, simple goodness, and human inspiration.