For the previous review on Rocky IV, please click here – Rocky IV Review
I remember standing inside the lobby of our local movie theater back in 1990 when I first saw a poster of Rocky with his fist in the air and the advertisement that Rocky was coming soon. I thought it may have been the original Rocky coming back to theaters for a limited time. If that had been the case, I wouldn’t have minded…but instead as I soon found out, it was another sequel to the original and while I don’t think the movie was terrible, it was definitely an unnecessary sequel that didn’t do much to change much of the story.
Let’s go back to the beginning where we find out that Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) has some lingering after-effects from his previous match with Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Concussions and brain damage is a pretty hot topic in today’s world of sports, ranging from football to mixed martial arts, so not too unrealistic that this could occur. Adrian (Talia Shire) is worried and for good reason. However, this plot line is a major part of the fifth film, but does not get mentioned in the next sequel, so it does bring about some continuity issues there.
Speaking of continuity, if I am not mistaken, Robert (Rocky, Jr.) Balboa was a sandy-haired little nine year old boy when Rocky got to the Soviet Union. Now…he has grown into a dark haired 14 year old when Rocky returns. That was one long trip! The change in actors is understandable…I am not a big fan of it, but sometimes it has to be done for personal reasons. But couldn’t they have at least found someone a little closer to his previous age. Instead, Sly casts his own son, Sage Stallone, in the role, which of course opens up a completely new storyline involving teenage angst, jealousy and bullies. It’s like “Rebel Without a Cause” meets “Rocky”.
But we’ll move forward. We have a completely new boxing challenger named Union Cane (Michael Williams) that is trained by George Washington Duke (Richard Gant). So we have Duke….and we have Duke. One is training Rocky and one is training the opponents of Rocky. Confusing? I was and always tried to figure out why they wouldn’t change their names. Now Richard Gant, who has had some great dramatic roles in his career does a parody here and that is of famed Boxing promoter Don King. I don’t know why that was necessary instead of inventing a completely new character…but it doesn’t work here. It makes the film a farce and completely makes it stand out (not in a good way) from the other films.
It seems to me that Stallone was trying to go back to the original formula that made Rocky a success and one way he does it is by returning it to the roots…literally….Paulie (Burt Young) loses some money and the next thing you know they wind up back in Philadelphia. Rocky returns to his old gym and sees the ghost of Mickey…a scene that actually is probably the highlight of the film as Burgess Meredith can’t do wrong…ever! It’s a poignant scene that brings the film back to the mentor-fighter relationship, one of the strong points of the first 3 films.
That is when the film takes a turn, however and introduces Tommy “The Machine” Gunn. What made the first three opponents work (Creed, Lang and Drago) is that they were played believably by Carl Weathers, Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren, respectively. Tommy Gunn, however, is played by real-life boxer, the late Tommy Morrison and it seems to me all of Morrison’s “butterflies” and nervousness and possibly being intimidated by Stallone was shown through his character. If we were to believe that Gunn could stand up to Rocky, I didn’t want to see a scared fighter, jittery lips intact. I can honestly say that the character of Tommy Gunn is the weakest in all the films and brings the film down and out of sync.
There is a secondary plot in the film, one that I don’t want to dwell on too much because the plot isn’t what the original story was about. Robert, Jr. goes to a new school, gets bullied, meets a new girlfriend and learns to fight. With all of that, Rocky is more concerned with his new protégé, Gunn than listening to his son until one fateful Christmas evening when Rocky loses Gunn to GW Duke and his son to his new found friends. It is here where Adrian reminds her husband that she’s still around and if he doesn’t bring their son home, she’s out of there…well, she didn’t really say that, but finally a character had some fortitude to say “Hey, remember us?” Rocky, of course, gets his son back and they become the “home team” again.
This all leads to the Tommy Gunn vs. Rocky Balboa fight….which is not for a title, but to see who is better out on the streets. And again, it doesn’t work. Much of the hoopla from all the other films has surrounded the fact that there’s a match in the ring and Rocky’s the underdog. Here it’s a tale of revenge because….Paulie got a tooth knocked out in a bar? And while there’s always that one inspirational line…”You knocked him down, now why don’t you try knockin’ me down” isn’t one of them. But on to the fight we go…and this is where we once again have to suspend our beliefs. Apparently, it’s a street fight that’s being televised live, even though it’s illegal. You’ve got people standing around, hooting and hollering…I mean, I’ve never lived in Philadelphia, but I’m sure the last thing they want is that their city is known as a bunch of blood-thirsty folks.
In the end, Tommy loses and is arrested, while Don George Washington Duke King is knocked out on to the hood of a vehicle. With that, Rocky is able to hug his wife, son…and give a thumbs up to the Italian priest.
And so we fade out to Elton John’s “Measure of a Man” as we reminisce of the better parts of the series with stills of scenes from the previous films and with that, the Rocky saga ends. Oh wait, it doesn’t? Apparently, even Sylvester Stallone wasn’t happy with the ending of this one (who would be?) that he decided we would get another film down the road.
FINAL GRADE: C
So what are your thoughts on Rocky V? Do you agree or disagree? Is it better than Rocky IV or worse? Hit me with a comment either way and next week, I’ll be reviewing Rocky III.