‘TIS THE SEASON TO WATCH “ROCKY” …PART V

Rocky V (sorta) had the right idea, but the wrong execution. In order to appreciate anything about it, one has to first step back and realize how thoroughly preposterous the series had gotten, no matter how entertaining it was. Rocky had become an age-defying boxing superhero, and almost a completely different person than that scrappy underdog of the first film. Rocky V tries to recapture the spirit of the original by sending Rocko back to his Philly roots, but unfortunately it happens via an idiotic plot contrivance that involves hapless brother-in-law Paulie losing the Balboa family fortune to a shady accountant. It’s a simple but hackneyed way of trying to make Rocky the underdog again, as if robbing him of his wealth will make him more likeable. The ridiculousness doesn’t stop there: Rocky & Co. return home from Russia (this one picks up immediately after Rocky IV), only Rocky’s son has inexplicably aged five years since they left him home in the last one, and is now played by Sage Stallone, Sly’s son. What, did they stay in Russia for five years? Even worse, Rocky now has mild brain damage as a result of the Drago fight, and has to immediately retire. At first this seems like an excuse to change up the plot and keep him out of the ring (and it is), but it also becomes apparent that it’s an excuse to have Rocky once again act like the lovable but loopy buffoon he was in the first one. The whole setup smacks of desperation; surely there could have been more plausible and less dramatic ways of taking the character back down a notch or two, but then again these movies have never been too concerned with plausibility.

Now that Rocky’s retired and bored, he reopens Mickey’s old gym, and eventually ends up training a young hotshot named Tommy Gunn, played by real-life boxer Tommy Morrison. Rocky becomes a mentor to Tommy, eager to teach Tommy everything Mickey instilled in him, but inadvertently ends up neglecting his own son in the process. Tommy seems humble and kind at first, reminding Rocky of himself in his early days, but it soon becomes apparent that Tommy is cocky, and easily seduced by money and fame. When he signs up with a sleazy Don King-like boxing promoter and leaves Rocky in the dust, we see it coming from a mile away – especially since we know this promoter is just using Tommy to bait Rocky back into the ring. It all comes to a head when Tommy, taunted by the press as being a “paper champion” and unable to escape Rocky’s shadow, challenges his former mentor to a street fight, and of course Rocky eventually gives in and knocks him on his ass. It’s so asinine and laughable, yet strangely entertaining.

Rocky V clearly tries to shake off the extravagant nature of parts III and IV (it even has original director John Avildsen back at the helm), but it ends up being equally ridiculous in its own way, and even worse, forgettable. During an interview, Stallone was asked to rate the Rocky movies on a scale of 1-10, and he gave Rocky V a zero. I would actually disagree with him; giving the movie a zero implies that there isn’t a single worthy part to it, but Rocky V has at least two:

  1. The first is a poignant and touching flashback of a younger Rocky with Mickey, presumably around the time frame of the first film. “Rocky” is played by a stand-in (or if it is Stallone, they make sure to obscure his face), but Mickey is of course Burgess Meredith, who makes a welcome cameo.
  2. The second (hold your laughter) is actually the end credits, which consist of a B&W photo montage of moments from every previous movie, set to a corny but moving song by Elton John, that’s thoroughly Rocky-esque. (The song, however, is called “The Measure of a Man,” which if taken literally sounds kinda funny coming from Elton John.) Perhaps this can only be experienced from watching the entire series over a short period of time, but watching these credits will likely bring on (to quote Cinemassacre’s James Rolfe) “sentimental waves of nostalgia” as you recap the series you just watched, and you’ll find that this alone almost makes for a satisfying conclusion to the Rocky saga. It’s cheesy but it’s heartfelt, and cheesiness and heart (and montages) are arguably what Rocky is all about.

Rocky V was clearly intended to be a finale to the series (if those end credits weren’t enough evidence), but that’s something only Rocky Balboa would be able to pull off, a whopping 16 years later. In hindsight, it’s no surprise that its best moments are the ones that harken back to earlier and better parts of the series. Check it out to satisfy your curiosity, but there’s probably no harm in skipping this one either.

Least favorite part: Most of the scenes with Rocky’s son, and practically any scene with “George Washington Duke,” the sleazy Don King clone. They’re both annoying characters.

Favorite (non-montage or fight) part: Definitely the scene with Mickey, as described above, but I’ll also throw in the scene where Rocky watches his former protégé win the title on television. Despite having been thrown to the curb, Rocky still watches with enthusiasm, hitting his punching bag in sync with the fight. You wonder why Rocky’s even bothering to watch, until you realize he’s still living vicariously through Tommy, and that that’s a part of his life he’s not fully ready to quit.

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