Back To Where It All Began
***This Review Contains Spoilers***
Few motion pictures seem to inspire as much intense dislike as Rocky V, even to the point of Sylvester Stallone himself giving the film a score of “O” on a British talk show – yes, 0/10. Come on man, can you really say Rocky V has absolutely no merit what so ever? Even the sitcom The Vicar of Dibley bashes Rocky V in its pilot episode; “Four’s not bad is it? There were four gospels, four horsemen of the Apocalypse, four Rocky movies until they made Rocky V, very bad movie”. As a huge fan of the Rocky movies I’ll just come out and say it, I love Rocky V. Oh yeah, deal with it! Part V was designed the return the series back to its roots, not only by bringing Rocky back to his humble beginning on the streets of Philadelphia but also by being directed by John G. Avildsen, the director the first Rocky. In my eyes, the film succeeds.
Continuing the series tradition of recapping the fight from the previous film, Rocky V presents a recap of the Rocky- Drago fight scored with the traditional Rocky music by Bill Conti rather than the Vince DiCola score from Rocky IV, which is a nice touch. The opening title with the faces of Rocky and Drago in the lettering is also my favourite opening title in the series.
The one big grip I do have with Rocky V is how it messes up the Rocky continuity. Just to give a brief recap of Rocky continuity from Rocky III onwards: it isn’t made clear the date of which Rocky III ends, but we are told the date of Mickey’s death as taking place in 1981 so we can assume Rocky’s second fight with Clubber Lang took place in 1981/82. Rocky IV picks up where III left off, but no dates are mentioned in the movie nor is it made clear on the passing of time. It seems most likely the events of Rocky IV take place somewhere from 1982 to 1985, the year in which the movie was released. Rocky V picks up where Rocky IV left off, and once Rocky returns to America from Russia and gets off the plane, he is greeted by his teenage son; however, at the end of Rocky IV he was still a child. There should have been a passing of time and then introduce the teenage son. But on top of this, considering the early 90’s aesthetic of Rocky V, due in part of its soundtrack, it seems like Rocky really did travel through time when flying that plane from the 80’s world of Rocky IV. Perhaps some crazy fan theory explanation could solve the mystery such as Rocky staying in Russia for several years after his fight with Drago. While this plot hole does bother me a bit, does it really interfere with my enjoyment of the overall movie? No, not really.
Once Rocky travels through time and is back in America, the family go home to a different mansion than that seen in Rocky III and IV, but I can accept perhaps they owned more than one. Regardless, due to an issue involving taxes, the Balboa family lose their fortune and are forced to return to return to Paulie’s old place in Philadelphia. What was the tax issue? To quote IMDB’s FAQ section for Rocky V:
When Rocky was in Russia during Rocky IV, Paulie gave the power of attorney to Rocky’s accountant, because the accountant told Paulie he needed to authorize a tax extension. Given free access to Rocky’s accounts, the accountant used Rocky’s savings to finance a real estate investment, planning on having the money back in the account by the time Rocky returned from Russia. However, the real estate deal went bad and the money was never returned. Additionally, Rocky discovers that he has debt payments, mortgage payments ($400,000) and that the accountant hasn’t filed any of Rocky’s tax returns for over 6 years.
Ok, I’m not an expert on taxes, but the movie makes it sound convincing, so I’ll buy it.
Rocky’s return to his old stomping ground gives the film a welcome nostalgia factor, from Rocky wearing his clothes from the first movie to Adrian being dowdy once again and working in the pet shop; to the return of locations from the first movie such as the Atomic Hoagie Shop. At one point in the film, they even repeat the very first shot of the original Rocky. Also, the streets of Philly appear to be more graffiti and trash-laden than they had been in 1975/76. Rocky V also features Burgess Meredith’s final appearance as Mickey (even if he does look older than his last appearance in Rocky III), in a newly filmed flashback scene in which he gives one of the most powerful monologues in the series. This is ranks as one of my favourite scenes of the entire franchise, and I fail to see how anyone could deny its emotional impact.
Due to Rocky’s newly discovered brain damage, he can’t return to the boxing ring and instead trains a new upcoming boxer Tommy Gunn (portrayed by real-life boxer Tommy Morrison); a predecessor to the plot of 2015’s Creed. Tommy Gunn is nowhere near as iconic or memorable as Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang or Ivan Drago, but I still enjoy his character and find him more interesting than Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon in Rocky Balboa. He’s an enthusiastic go-getter who eventually turns on his mentor and becomes seduced by the dark side of the boxing business. So yeah, it’s a better version of Star Wars Episode III with Rocky as Obi-Wan, Tommy as Anakin and the boxing promoter George Washington Duke as Palatine. George Washington Duke is the main villain of the movie; a Don King-like boxing promoter. I love this guy; he’s such a stereotypical loud-mouthed salesman, continuing the tradition of over the top Rocky Villains.
However, the real heart of Rocky V lies with its father-son story with its themes of neglect and abandonment between Rocky and his son Robert, played by Stallone’s real-life son, Sage Stallone; making the interactions between them feel more real and genuine. Not to mention the character of Robert has a frightening predicament of going from a sheltered life to living in a tough neighbourhood. It’s weird to think that both Sage Stallone and Tommy Morrison are now both dead; two young stars from a movie which is only 26 years old. Stallone already hates Rocky V as it is, but having the movie star his deceased son I’d imagine makes the movie even more unwatchable for him. In regards to the subplot involving Robert and the school bullies, I actually find this aspect of the story to be interesting itself. I feel it showcases how in order to make peace with the bullies he had to fight them back and win the battle, and that Adrian’s suggestion that she who would rather he solve his problems verbally would be a futile gesture. After he fights the bullies he then immediately makes peace with one of them and they become friends. Could this be a war parable, or am I just over-analysing?
Despite V being the black sheep of the franchise, Rocky V still ends on a fight, not in the ring but on the street. Having Rocky take part in a barbaric street fight makes for great entertainment, due in part to the fun of seeing Rocky engage in a fight in which there are no rules. I also love all the over the top crowd reactions (“Come on dad, he took my room!”, “You’re losing everything!”). The film’s final pay off is immensely satisfying in which Rocky punches George Washington Duke right into the air and onto a car; what comeuppance!
Rocky V reintroduces Bill Conti’s music after being absent from Rocky IV. However, the soundtrack of Rocky V is mainly comprised of hip-hop and RnB. I’m not a fan of hip-hop, but I do like the songs included in the film. With Go For It I get the impression they were trying to create a new Eye of the Tiger; a song which is named after a phrase which is repeated throughout the film which is central to the plot. It could never be as iconic as Eye of the Tiger, but it still gets me jamming. I also love the new version of Take You Back which gives the song an early 90’s spin. All the films in the series reflect the periods in which they were made, and for Rocky V it’s the early 90’s.
I’ve heard reviewers complain Rocky V is a depressing ending to the series. It becomes clear at the end of the film that Rocky learns he doesn’t need wealth to be happy providing he’s still got his family and his health; and eventually he chooses his family over his career, pride, and ego. This is a theme which ties in with the end credits song The Measure of a Man sung by Elton John:
“You’ve come full circle, now you’re home, without the gold, without the chrome. And this is where you’ve always been, you had to lose so you could win. And rise above your troubles while you can.”
I did not find Rocky V in any way to undermine to optimistic nature of the series. Initially, it was scripted for Rocky to die at the end, and there is even a deleted scene which shows the character of Marie from the first movie continued to hang out with the wrong crowd. These elements would make an interesting alternative version, but for my Rocky canon, I prefer the direction they took. Plus the reintroduction of Marie in Rocky Balboa was a better path for the character, more in tune with the series’ optimistic nature.
The end credits of Rocky V give a retrospective of the entire series which couldn’t be more perfect, plus I love the song The Measure of a Man. I don’t often talk about how great the end credits of a film are, yet with all the Rocky sequels I watch the credits in their entirety. Rocky V is the black sheep of the series in terms of plot structure. We already have four movies which end with Rocky fighting an opponent in the ring, it would have been tiresome to do that a fifth time. Instead, Stallone wrote a sequel which took a chance. So yes, I love Rocky V. Got a problem with that, then my ring’s outside!