Sylvester Stallone as Rocky BalboaYour correspondent has been very busy with other work during the past week and has neglected his work here, for which he apologizes profusely. During this hectic time, however, we did manage to take a couple of hours to see Rocky Balboa, the sixth and supposedly last of actor/writer/director Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky films.

Stallone has promoted the film aggressively to Christian audiences, pointing out that he has become much more greatly committed to Christianity (and jolly good for him!), specifically the Catholicism in which he was brought up. 

Stallone says that the character of Rocky Balboa always had a strong element of Stallone’s Christian thought behind him:

It’s like he was being chosen, Jesus was over him, and he was going to be the fella that would live through the example of Christ," Stallone said. "He’s very, very forgiving. There’s no bitterness in him. He always turns the other cheek. And it’s like his whole life was about service.

Those are reasonable claims about Rocky, and of course his Christian name is a clear and rather charming reference to the disciple Peter (whose name, Petra, means "rock" and whose clear statement of Jesus’s divinity was the "rock" on which Jesus based the Christian church). 

Stewart Shepherd of Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine, who attended a conference call in which Stallone talked about the film, notes that the very first image in the Rocky series sets a Christian tone:

Stallone reminded those of us on the call that the opening shot of the original film is of a painting of Jesus looking down on Rocky in the boxing ring in a rundown gym.

Stallone says that his recommitment to Christianity made it important for him to make the Christian subtext clearer in Rocky Balboa. I wouldn’t say that he overdoes it at all. In fact, it’s rather subtle, as Stallone puts it mostly by implication in the story rather than foregrounding Christian imagery and having the characters talk about religion.

That is a very good artistic choice, as the narrative itself makes Stallone’s points in a much more intelligent and subtle manner than an explicit presentation of such issues in a boxing film would have done. Only one character talks about Christianity, a washed-up boxer Rocky beat in an early film in the series and whom Rocky now allows to eat for free in his restaurant. Interestingly, the recipient of this charity insists on working in the kitchen for his keep, washing dishes rather ineptly.

All of this makes the film palatable for audiences regardless of their religious beliefs, which makes it an even more effective means of bring Stallone’s message out to the public. 

Rocky Balboa is indeed one of the best entries in the series and an excellent film.