"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Rocky V

tn_rockyvI think ROCKY V is the least enjoyable of the ROCKY pictures, but I admire its intentions. This is actually my first time watching it, and maybe it plays better when you watch them all close together. I know it was poorly received when it came out, and I’m sure some people were confused that it wasn’t more of the mountain-conquering commie-smasher Rocky had turned into when we last saw him five years earlier. But like I said, the ROCKY series evolves with the times. Allow me to submit to you an acknowledgment that appears on the end credits:

“We wish to express our gratitude to the Soviet government for granting us the use of their Aeroflot jet.”

With Reagan and the Cold War in the rear-view mirror and Survivor on indefinite hiatus, Stallone decided to shed some of the ’80s-style excess of the last two sequels. The world had changed again. People didn’t even care about Rambo anymore. Stallone’s last movie had been TANGO & CASH, which did okay, but was a troubled production and got poor reviews. He was obviously itching to try something different, because he followed ROCKY V with OSCAR and STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT. But first he felt it was time to put the tiger jacket in the closet and bring back the underdog. This was his first attempt, before ROCKY BALBOA, to go back to Rocky’s roots as well as to deal with his advancing age.

He really went back to the beginning by bringing back director John G. Avildsen for his only ROCKY sequel, as well as Bill Conti (who, remember, had not done IV). Of course Apollo Creed is absent for the first time, since he was killed in IV, but they actually decided to bring back Burgess Meredith as Mickey for a new inspirational speech shown in flashback.

mp_rockyvThough it’s moving away from the cartoonish world of ROCKY IV they actually pick up in the locker room right after the Drago fight. We first see Rocky in a dramatic naked pose, so I thought for a second he was gonna be extra-vain Stallone. But the very first scene is a heart-rending breakdown where Rocky’s hands won’t stop shaking, he cries into Adrian’s shoulder and gets so confused he calls her Mick. You know right away this movie is not gonna be able to have “Eye of the Tiger” in it.

While he was in Russia his son Rocky Jr. changed into Stallone’s actual son, Sage Stallone. He’s still dorky, but it works much better since, obviously, he looks like Rocky’s son. Rocky is welcomed home as a hero but an overly obvious Don King clone called George Washington Duke (Richard Gant, the coroner in JASON GOES TO HELL) bumrushes his press conference to demand a title shot for his fighter Union Cane (Michael Anthony Williams, JO JO DANCER, YOUR LIFE IS CALLING). The press are weirdly aggressive about trying to get Rocky to accept the challenge and this is an early sign that it’s gonna be a little hokier and broader than the ROCKY Revisited it sets out to be. (Later they actually slut-shame the antagonist’s girlfriend and it’s played as a stick-it-to-the-man moment.)

Also while they were in Russia Paulie (even though he was in Russia with them) made a mistake that led to some scammer accountant losing all of their money and assets other than Mighty Mick’s Gym. At first they fret about losing “everything,” all the stuff they didn’t have in part 1. But they bite the bullet and go back to the old neighborhood. Adrian even goes back to working at the pet store. And wearing the horn-rimmed glasses! I’m surprised the prescription still works. Rocky takes off the grey hat that Apollo gave him in between III and IV and puts on the black one from his mob enforcer days. Other callbacks: Gloria (Jane Marla Robbins) from the pet store is in it, Rocky visits Father Carmine (Paul Micale) and yells up to his window (because he doesn’t want to bother him), he goes for a drink at Andy’s (Don Sherman returning as Andy), there’s another match at the church where Rocky fought Spider Rico, the Italian Stallion motorcycle is seen, they even bring back Frank Stallone’s “Take You Back” as the chorus of a corny rap song (by the 7A3, a group DJ Muggs was in before Cypress Hill). IMDb says they also had Jodi Letizia return as Marie, the teenage girl he walked home and lectured about swearing, but the scenes were deleted. (She would’ve been a homeless prostitute – the character is treated better with a different actress in the next movie.)

Rocky finds out he has boxing-related brain damage, and for the first time he listens to Adrian and makes the responsible decision to retire and ignore the loudmouths egging him on to fight again. It seems like they were making a point of giving Shire some dramatic scenes to chew on in what would turn out to be her last time as Adrian. I think she’s a little much in this one, waving her arms alot and doing variations on the emotional yelling speech from IV. I like Stallone’s show-offy scenes better. There’s a good one where he’s been taking the poor man’s life in stride until he sees Adrian back at J + M Tropical Fish and feels humiliated that she has to do that. “Yo Adrian, did we ever leave this place?”

Anyway, Rocky now has the gym and the mission of becoming the new Mickey, helping train a whole bunch of fighters (he even has Duke [Tony Burton] and Jimmy Gambina, that short guy that worked for Mickey helping him out). And then a persistent young fighter with the Stallonian name of Tommy “The Machine” Gunn (boxer Tommy Morrison) comes trying to get him to be his manager.

Some of the movie’s weaknesses come from this Tommy character. The newspapers call him a clone or a robot of Rocky, but there’s never a point where it seems like he has his soul. That’s kind of the point, but it weakens the drama. Morrison captures a likeable gold old boy feeling, and mentions a rough upbringing based on his real life. But there’s not the time or the acting chops for a convincing evolution into the guy who betrays Rocky and turns into a dick.

But that’s what happens. Through two montages Rocky trains Tommy and builds up his career. Meanwhile, Rocky Jr. sits off to the side in Paulie-esque resentment. In IV he asked Rocky when he was gonna teach him how to punch, but his dad didn’t want him to have to fight. Now he’s getting rolled by bullies every day at public school and his dad’s too busy living through Tommy Gunn to help him out. Poor kid has to learn from Jimmy and Paulie. Eventually Junior does beat up the bullies and, taking after his dad, makes them his friends. But when Rocky is too distracted to properly celebrate this victory the kid turns mopey and starts wearing a dangly earring. (Shoulda gone for the full Clubber Lang mohawk.)

Yeah, this part of the movie should be better. It makes Avildsen’s KARATE KID seem raw and real by comparison. But it’s nice that Sly got to use Sage as his son in the one that deals the most with fatherhood. The younger Stallone died of a heart attack in 2012 at the tragically young age of 36. Depressingly, this movie’s surrogate son Tommy Morrison died the year after that.

goforitAnother problem is the songs. The rock songs of III and IV are cheesy and dated, but to me they’re the fun type of cheesy and dated. It’s probly just my tastes, but I can’t get past how wack these songs are, by either the standards of now or of 1990. And the on-the-nose choruses are so unimaginative. The first montage is “Go For It!” by Joey B. Ellis and Tynetta Hare and the second is “Keep It Up” by Snap. I’m surprised there’s not “Good Work” and “Super!”

But it’s impressive that I really couldn’t tell where the story was headed. Tommy turns his back on Rocky, becomes champ and is manipulated by George Washington Duke into wanting to set up a fight with Rocky to get out from under his shadow. And Rocky still isn’t interested. But when Tommy follows Rocky into Andy’s to argue and ends up popping Paulie, now it’s on. So instead of a big match we get a spontaneous street fight (choreographed by Terry Funk). Kind of like REDBELT except you weren’t expecting him to fight in a tournament before it happened.

Thematically this climax has a ton going for it. By fighting but not for money he’s rejecting G.W. Duke’s tacky exploitation right in front of his face, while showing that getting back the money he used to have is not as important as his principles. Also he’s proving Adrian’s thesis that although Tommy has Rocky’s fighting style he doesn’t have his heart, and therefore can’t fight as well. This movie is showing that it’s not just about Rocky being an underdog and “rising up from the streets,” it’s more about who he is as a person. Tommy’s a good puncher, but he’s an asshole. He’s a bum.

And to think Rocky gave him Apollo’s red white and blue trunks! What the fuck was he thinking? I hope the kid gets those back in CREED (no spoilers, don’t tell me).

On the other hand it feels a little off for a ROCKY climax. You don’t get a build to the fight – no training montage for Rocky – and it doesn’t go on nearly as long as the boxing matches do in these movies, doesn’t have as much of an arc to it, as much impact. The execution isn’t as good as the idea.

In a way maybe Stallone was just a little ahead of his time. A few years later we’d have the rise of Miramax and the ’90s indie wave. Suddenly everybody else would be looking back nostalgically at the films and stars of the ’70s, at dramas about people from the streets. Tarantino would popularize the idea of unlocking the forgotten greatness of stars from that era now thought of by the less perceptive as has-beens or past-their-primes. Stallone later tried to get in on that, vying for the role of Max Cherry in JACKIE BROWN. At least he got COPLAND.

Also this was 3 years before UFC started, so it was ahead of the curve on wanting to spruce up combat sports with no holds barred street fight type competition.

It’s crazy to think that at one point they were planning for Rocky to be killed in the street fight. It would’ve been such a bummer ending to his story, especially having the last movie be the weakest one. They definitely made the right choice leaving him alive so Stallone could spend years being profoundly disappointed in himself for making this movie and then using that to fuel the superior next chapter. And you might say they should’ve skipped this one altogether, but imagine watching IV and ROCKY BALBOA back-to-back. You’d get whiplash.

I can understand liking this better than the sillier III and IV, but to me those are perfect renditions of the movies they’re supposed to be, while this is a flawed try at an interestingly stripped down aging boxer drama. But that’s okay. It stayed on its feet. And now the series has something to come back from. Something to be hungry for. This may not be a great movie, but it’s a great bridge from ROCKY IV to ROCKY BALBOA.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 23rd, 2015 at 12:32 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

62 Responses to “Rocky V”

  1. I never hated this like everyone else including Stallone did. Always thought it made sense for Rocky to become a manager (which seems will finally happen much more effectively in Creed.)

    Watching them all back to back it is glaring how Stallone is trying way too hard to set everything back to Rocky I down to Adrian going back to the pet shop. But she says she did it to be close to him, so that’s nice. And it seems like Stallone is genuinely happy to have his real son there.

    Agree the worst part is the “modern” music which had to be cheesy even in 1990. I was always against Rocky dying too just because that’s such a cliche, can’t you think of a good ending without playing up lazy tragedy? Though they just plain ignore the brain damage in Balboa. That doesn’t get better in 16 years, if my medical sources are accurate.

    Thank you for acknowledging the real life deaths in the cast, Vern. It makes watching Rocky V a little more bittersweet remembering a time when they all seemed happy to be working, with a bright future ahead which in Morrison’s case really didn’t happen. :(

  2. Interesting note that Morrison’s only two other credits as an actor was an uncredited part in THEY LIVE and a guest shot on the sitcom CYBIL (which I vaguely remember, because it was around the time his HIV status came out).

    1990 was the year of the sequel. This, GODFATHER III, BACK TO THE FUTURE III, PREDATOR II, YOUNG GUNS II, ANOTHER 48 HRS. and an EXORCIST sequel all come to mind.

  3. Sage was a friend to the horror genre. He’d host horror double-features at the New Beverly.

  4. Fred, I remember Sly saying in several pre-release interviews that Rocky is still brain damaged, but apparently the standards and regulations in sports medicine have changed. Meaning that in 1990 doctors and officials would be like “No, you can’t fight anymore!”, but by 2006 standards, they would say: “Well, you seem to have some damage there, but by our new and improved guidelines, based on the medical knowledge that we earned over the last 15 years, you are still fit enough.”

    I’m not saying that I buy that explaination, (since it doesn’t explain his steady hands) but that’s what Stallone said.

  5. Oh, and how can I forget DIE HARD 2? And ROBOCOP 2 while we’re at it (though it’s something a lot of people would prefer to forget I imagine). So that’s 9 (is there any I’m forgetting) sequels released by major studios in one year. I wonder if that’s been topped.

  6. GREMLINS 2, THE TROLL 2, THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, CHILD’S PLAY 2, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY, PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING, PUPPET MASTER 2, MANIAC COP 2, and AMERICAN NINJA 2. Okay so not all of these are Hollywood productions strictly speaking. But that’s a lot.


  8. As a child of divorce, V struck a chord with me as Rocky basically abandons his family. Of course he comes to his senses eventually and because of that I still get choked up at the “home team” reconciliation. But I think that’s the reason people act so negative to V: because Rocky is kind of a dick in this one. That is why I like it though. Not every movie hero franchise has a installment where he’s a dick.

    I also hate it when people rag on this movie because his fall from grace is so convenient. It’s like they can’t believe a person can lose all their money overnight but they have no problem accepting an artificially intelligent robot that falls in love with a drunk.

    Also I personally love the street fight. The other films are about him overcoming adversary in the ring. This one it’s personal. This guy put a wedge between Rocky and his family. So the street fight makes perfect sense. Besides, if you don’t get pumped when you hear Mickey say “Get up you sonofabitch! Because Mickey loves ya!”, you don’t have a pulse.

  9. “This may not be a great movie, but it’s a great bridge from ROCKY IV to ROCKY BALBOA.”

    Quite possibly the most accurate thing I’ve ever read regarding ROCKY V.

    I’m with Fred. I’ve never really hated this movie and always felt Sly was a bit too hard on himself for it. Honestly I think if the box office was a bit better he wouldn’t be dragging it through the mud as much. At that time I bet that really hurt his ego. Sure when it fails it kinda fails badly but when it succeeds it doesn’t get any real credit. Rocky and Adrian is very compelling in this one almost singlehandedly making up for the weak character work in part 4.

    I also loved the concept of Rocky pulling a Cus D’Amato or even a Good Ol Mickey by graduating from trainee to trainer. Clearly as evidence by what we’re getting later this week that concept in itself was compelling enough to hang an entire movie on. It gave it purpose and was much more naturalistic and in tune with the series than a straight up revenge story.

    I could even put up with the Avildsenian tradition of picking right up after the 4th and how glaringly awkward it is since Sage was well into high school compared to the 4th grader in IV. I always viewed the series continuity as a sliding timeline anyway you guys know I read comic books so it’s not a new concept to me. I think it was also kinda bold to go the street fight route. This was the era where I was playing all these street brawl games like DOUBLE DRAGON and FINAL FIGHT and watching people resolve business on the street by scrapping if they had to. To me it helped bring back some of the grit to the series that 4 kinda robbed it of by taking that route during an era where that was still a prominent part of inner city neighborhood culture.

  10. Also Fred they basically ignored the fact that Rocky almost went blind in II in Rocky III, which sets a precedent I believe of ignoring ring-related injuries in the series.

  11. Sorry to say I really do think this is pretty terrible, even though I found it passable the first time I saw it; I’ve rewatched it a couple of times expecting it to get better, but it gets worse. And ROCKY BALBOA really did put this out of business. Its heart is in the right place and it’s not just a gutless cash-in, which certainly makes it much more likable than A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD for example, but I’m not so sure I’d say it’s better. That Sly originally wanted this to end with Rocky dying shows how little he understood his own creation at this point, and so does stuff like the deleted Marie prostitute scenes etc. And yes, I know that’s a horrendously arrogant and condescending thing to say. But still.

  12. Jack Burton – “As a child of divorce, V struck a chord with me as Rocky basically abandons his family. Of course he comes to his senses eventually and because of that I still get choked up at the “home team” reconciliation. But I think that’s the reason people act so negative to V: because Rocky is kind of a dick in this one. That is why I like it though. Not every movie hero franchise has a installment where he’s a dick.”

    I also think it’s pretty interesting. Seeing Rocky dealing with his own ego and fear of irrelevance for once and trying to live vicariously through Tommy instead of his own seed. It was a new hook for him but still captivating enough. I think it may have spoken to Sly a bit too much comfort at that time in his career once he realized what he had written though.

  13. Oh and it has one of the best end credits sequences in the saga.

  14. Yeah, I will say that for it. And Elton John’s MEASURE OF A MAN is certainly the best song on the soundtrack (and I’ve always been generally fairly ambivalent towards EJ)

  15. The use of the Conti music over the Drago fight in the opening credits was a nice choice too. Other than it just being perfect (instead of the keyboard rockafire explosion of the original score) the menace of that particular cue is indicative of how much damage the fight did to him, showing it as something more harrowing than heroic. I can’t think of many movies that lopsided in terms of a great credits sequence, with a film that doesn’t live up to it after. Maybe the original cut of ALIEN3.

  16. “It’s like they can’t believe a person can lose all their money overnight but they have no problem accepting an artificially intelligent robot that falls in love with a drunk.”

    Jack Burton, this sentence cracked me up. I suppose the only way I would defend the reality of Rocky IV is that in the world of Rocky IV, where a roided up super athlete from Russia kills a man in the ring and Rocky helps heal the rift between America and the USSR, a robot falling for Paulie doesn’t seem completely outlandish. But losing money overnight seems somewhat forced in Rocky V, and the movie is nowhere near as fun as the fourth entry. I haven’t rewatched Rocky V since the mid-90s, so maybe I would change my mind after a second viewing.

  17. Broddie, well, let’s be honest about Stallone. As soon as a movie fails with audiences he agrees with them to curry favor for his next one. So maybe he recognizes a few missteps with Rocky V but he probably doesn’t hate it as much as he says he does.

    Pacman, YES, Measure of a Man is beautiful. I’d completely forgotten it until my rematch and then immediately downloaded the song (not the rest of the horrible Rocky V soundtrack though.)

    And I would agree as much as I liked it initially, it does get worse on rematch, largely because of the dated Don King stuff and lame hip hop music, but I still like it.

    Jack Burton, good point. If I could ever understand the case Rocky makes to the boxing commission in Balboa maybe it has the answer. All I know is they won’t let him do what he gotta do, and why won’t they just let him do what he gotta do?

  18. Maybe Elton John understood what ROCKY V was about better than Stallone did!

  19. The lyrics were actually by Alan Menken, of LITTLE MERMAID/BEAUTY AND THE BEAST etc. fame

  20. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it but my general impression was that palms were greased in order for the fight in BALBOA to happen. That it happens in Las Vegas lends itself to that interpretation I think.

  21. This was the first Rocky I saw theatrically, at the tender age of 12. As evidence of its poor box office performance (and my own poor impulse control), attendance at the local theater was sufficiently sparse that I felt comfortable doing push-ups in the aisle during the Tommy Gunn training sequence (thanks, Snap!)

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  23. In addition to the conveniently forgotten blindness, the movie also forgets about the endorsements Rocky did in III. Now all of a sudden he can’t do commercials because of, as his lawyer puts it, a “loansharking conviction”. However I think there is an explanation behind this plot hole. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it so I forget what exact moment it occurs but I remember if you freeze frame during one of the fight montages that Rocky’s lawyer is briefly seen sitting next to Duke at ringside. Now you could argue that the lawyer happened to get good seats at the fight but I like to think that Duke had the lawyer bought and paid for. With Rocky’s lawyer in his pocket he could easily convince him to fight against Kane. I know I’m on the verge of sounding like a conspiracy nut but the idea his lawyer is two faced would certainly explain the fight-or-go-broke mentality that he displays when Rocky is in his office.

    Broddie– I wholeheartedly support your notion of a sliding timeline. After all, time is subjective and in a franchise where a montage is the preferred form of time elapsing, it’s hard to pin down how much time passes in a montage, let alone between entries.

  24. Another spot on review, Vern (bonus points for pandering), except I think I liked this one better than you, I think.

    Random things I like:
    -Elton John song and closing still photos montage
    -Tommy Morrison’s acting (surprisingly good in my opinion)
    -Streetfight: well-choreographed, bold, a change of pace for the series. Given his local hood/bill collector background, seeing Rocky doing more grappling and round-housing and shit is something that should happen in the Rocky saga at least once, and this movie accomplishes that mission. Also, with Rocky being damaged from the Drago fight and this being a street fight, the stakes are pretty high here (even more so with the knowledge that Sly actually was thinking of killing him off here)
    -Getting back to the streets – I think there is a really good un-corny message in seeing Rocky go from being in the 1% back down to the poorer end of the 99% and how he and his family cope with it. And seeing that, with the exception of him losing it a bit in III, Rocky never lost his heart or his character regardless of his changing material fortunes. I’m sure there’s some cultural analysis of the the transition out of the 80s and into the 90s (the end of Reagan and heading into recession) in here somewhere.
    -Damnit, Vern, I like the corny rap songs, including that Snap! song. Cheesy hip hop in the early 90s is the perfect answer to cheesy motivational power ballads in the mid-80s. Also, I like the Elton John song.
    -Seeing Rocky mess up with his kid — Rocky IV pretty much gave us the rich, suave, courageous, porsche-driving hero who faces Goliath and avenges his friend’s death / ends communism. Rocky V gives us a very fragile and flawed Rocky, and I like that Sly went there.
    -Mickey!!! Not only is he back, but these are some very poignant scenes somehow made even more poignant by Burgess Meredith’s own obviously increasing frailty. This is a movie about frailty–the frailty of money, status, and relationships, health, and life itself. Part 6 definitely carries this theme further, but V is in some ways darker and even more melancholy but still with a positive message.

    This is not a perfect film, but I like it’s heart and its boldness. It does something new and different in the series and, more importantly, it gets us back to the true essence of Rocky, where victory is not about status, accolades, or material success, but about love, loyalty, and pursuit of excellence for its own sake and for the sake of personal growth. It’s a film that is in touch with poverty and mortality as an inescapable aspect of our world and our lives, whereas 80s Rocky seemed to be somewhat in denial of that and too caught up in 80s excess and delusion.

  25. The bonus points for pandering refer to my pandering to Vern, not Vern pandering to anyone else. Sorry, that was ambiguous :)

  26. Skani, pushups in the theater is awesome! I have a less awesome but equally memorable story about a childhood friend of mine punching me in the face after seeing Rocky IV. It was his idea of playing Rocky. I must’ve been Rocky because I didn’t know how to block.

    It’s safe to say that Rocky V fails to capture the ’90s as well as III and IV captured the ’80s, but to be fair it was only 1990. Stallone hadn’t seen what the ’90s would become. His prediction that people wanted to go back to the street was just a decade off.

  27. I never liked this one. It’s got a lousy opponent with no charm or menace, and even at twelve I knew it was thematically wrong to have Rocky get into a street fight. His whole life was about not ending up a common street thug, and now Tommy Fucking Gunn made him one, and we’re supposed to think that’s awesome for some reason. Maybe if Tommy was some mythic force that Rocky had to stand up to for the good of whatever or etc., but he’s not. He’s a dink. Brawling with a dink lowers Rocky to his level. It’s classless and undignified and it’s no wonder Stallone didn’t want him to go out like that.

  28. I trust that you’re friend made sure to hit the Fred in the middle. You’re not a machine!! You’re a man!

  29. That said, “Get up, you sonofabitch, cuz Mickey loves ya!” is one of the greatest things anyone has ever said, so it’s not like the movie has no reason to exist.

  30. All this is making me remember what a family event the Rocky movies were for me. To get ready for Rocky IV, my parents let me rent the first three which my local video store had in one set as The Rocky Saga. The idea of renting three movies at once was probably mind blowing to little Franchise Fred.

    Both of my parents separately took me to see Rocky IV in theaters, because back then I would see movies several times. It was my second viewing with my dad where my friend punched me in the face. I only saw Rocky V with my mom. I think my dad was working late and it probably didn’t stay in theaters long enough for a second viewing, but we both still liked it and were glad Rocky didn’t die (pre-internet, that rumor still made the rounds). My dad did finally watch Rocky V on TV and I don’t think he was as kind.

    Rocky Balboa was the first Rocky movie I saw by myself, as a grown-up, at a press screening. Maybe the Creed saga will become tradition with my future kids.

  31. Majestyk, a couple things:
    1. Tommy Gunn is physically very intimidating; side by side, he dwarfs Rocky, and he is far more physically intimidating than Creed or Mason Dixon, and I’d argue even more so than Clubber (though Clubber looks meaner). Plus, Rocky is set up as being older and more physically vulnerable. I will grant that Tommy is far more humanized than say Drago or Clubber (both of whom are pretty much cartoon character villains), but he’s much younger, bigger, and stronger than Rocky in this film, and that is visually evident.

    2. There’s nothing in Rocky’s code of ethics that precludes him from standing up for Paulie and fighting Tommy in the street. Tommy spurned Rocky, his family, his gym, and his adopted neighborhood, gave others the credit for his success, came back to the neighborhood to goad him, and punched his brother-in-law. It may be a rash choice on Rocky’s part, but it’s a principled fight, not just thuggin for the hell of it. I fail to see how this fight with Tommy is less principled than his most recent few sanctioned fights.

  32. Also the street fight is the ultimate middle finger to Duke. Think about it. He’s spent the whole movie trying to get Rocky in the ring with the sole intention of making a payday off the fight. Instead, Rocky fights Tommy in the street and everyone watches it for free on the news.

  33. Jack, yes. Exactly. He is the anti-thesis of Duke, who I dare say is in some ways a kind of Bizarro Apollo Creed…like if you took all of Creed’s more flashy, materialistic, and ego-driven tendencies and turned them up to 11. Rocky fights out of principle–not to prove to others that he matters or is special, but to prove to himself that he is alive, free, and capable. To assert his dignity, self-respect, and will to survive and to protect those he cares about. He is not about “class” or being “dignified” in any material or social sense. He is about class and dignity in the basic sense of pushing back on a hard life and standing up for what he thinks is right, regardless of how it looks to anyone else.

  34. The soundtrack was provided by MC Hammer’s (now very much defunct) Bust-It Records; always thought was an interesting collabo.

  35. I get that Rocky was “justified” in fighting Gunn, but that’s only because the screenwriters shamelessly stacked the deck in order to get that confrontation to take place. I realize that complaining about audience manipulation in a Rocky movie is a fool’s errand, but I fail to see how former world champion Rocky being goaded into a public display of macho violence in a filthy alley is anything but tawdry and tragic. I get what they’re going for but it just doesn’t work.

  36. Right. Audience manipulation is woven pretty deep into the essence of the Rocky film. With the Rocky franchise, it’s always a question of how much emotional manipulation and fantasy land wish fulfillment is in play, not whether it’s in play. Even Part 1 plays deeply on our sympathies for the underdog, but there is enough grit, grime, realism, nuance, and general quirkiness to justify its Oscar winning status. Rocky Balboa, which is easily my second favorite (and perhaps the most effective distillation and integration of everything that works in the series as a whole) tries to convince that a guy who was pushing 60 (and, again, was considered past his prime as a boxer as far back as part 1) could somehow go the distance with a reigning champion half his age. Even so, with both films, one of the clear themes is: even when you lose on paper, you are still a winner for fighting courageously.

    I am with you that part V is tragic. And I will also concede that it mixes cheesy and tragic in a generally uneven way; but I still dig it and what it’s going after. Part V is easily the most tragic film in the series, even ahead of VI, which is poignant and tinged with lingering grief from years ago, but is ultimately a far more upbeat movie with a far more upbeat ending than V. In V, Rocky is broken in just about every respect–physically, psychologically, financially, familial-ly; and it’s all very raw. It’s definitely tragic, and that’s what I like about it, is it’s perhaps the first and only Rocky film to fully press into tragedy and what it means to be Rocky when you’ve lost pretty much all forms of material and immaterial “capital.” In many ways it’s a decisive repudiation of those elements of 80s Rocky that led us to the conclusion that Rocky is invincible. Turns out he’s totally vincible–and all too human–in every respect. :) I think that’s a very bold reversal for the series, yet still in keeping–indeed, getting closer to–the essence of Part 1.

    What is the essence of Rocky? Going back to Part 1, Rocky is all about (1) a very personal dual psychological-physical quest (a test of will to survive and press forward vs. give up), and (2) it’s about finding love and trying to be a decent human being, even when the odds are stacked against you in terms of your age, your social standing, and/or your financial prospects. It’s having the courage to keep going and trying to build something positive. It is never about winning awesome social status victories or wealth in any grandiose sense. That is what is tawdry. Rocky wearing a Hugo Boss shirt driving a porsche and knocking out a guy 10+ years younger and 10x stronger. I don’t understand what you mean when you use words like “tawdry” and “undignified,” as if refinement, social standing, or how his decisions are perceived by those outside his family was ever something that mattered all that much to Rocky. It seems more like you’re just bummed that he lost all of his stuff, his youth, and went back to being “another bum from the neighborhood.” You’re bummed that Sly pop the bubble that was 80s Rocky.

  37. Not at all. I’m fine with him being broke and back to basics. But Rocky’s entire goal was to prove that he’s better than what’s expected of him. He has dignity even when he’s in the gutter. That fight is something 80s Sly would have thought was cool, not something Rocky would have done without feeling deep shame about it. I just think it’s the wrong way for that story to play out.

  38. ‘Rocky is all about…finding love and trying to be a decent human being, even when the odds are stacked against you in terms of your age, your social standing, and/or your financial prospects. It’s having the courage to keep going and trying to build something positive.’

    I love that. Thanks, Skani.

  39. Majestyk, I’ll concede your point there. Probably, the better man thing for Rocky do do would have been to just walk away from Tommy and not give in to the pressure to fight. That would have been a pretty anti-climactic ending, but I agree that there is still a bit of the 80s-Rocky (Rocky III and IV) fantasy wish fulfillment stuff going on in Rocky having to stand up to the bully and give him and all of us the catharsis of seeing the bully get his comeuppance and seeing Rocky triumphant. So, even though I think much of what V is about as a whole is course correcting from if not repudiating the larger-than-life Rocky persona of III and IV, I do suppose that the ending of V gives in a bit to the temptation to deliver some kind of cathartic fireworks and visceral emotional payoff. The fact that Stallone considered killing off Rocky here speaks to the tension between fragile, tragic Rocky and indestructible badass Rocky.

    In closing, I don’t think V is the best Rocky, and I actually watch it less often than III or IV, because, yeah, it’s much less upbeat and confronts us with our fragility in ways that make us (or at least me) uncomfortable. But I do like it, and I think it does some new and interesting things in its own right and in terms of its sequential position in the series and its historical point in time. And I think it is a useful counterweight to 80s Rocky, even if it doesn’t entirely shake off all that baggage.

  40. Romans, sure thing. For me there is something very spiritual and beautiful about Rocky and the journey of his life in its own right and as a kind of historical figure traveling through the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s with us.

  41. I haven’t seen it in along time, so mostly all I remember besides the wack soundtrack was the bad taste the ending left in my mouth. Maybe I’ll check it out again. You guys are making a good case for it being a flawed but interesting movie so I’m sure there’s some good stuff in there that I’m forgetting about.

  42. Rewatching it a few years ago it wasn’t as bad as I remembered it but it’s not the most fun. I like opening title sequence where they re-score the Drago fight with Bill Conti’s music and I love the closing credits done to stills from the previous movies and the song “Measure of a Man” sung by Elton John. I also like the line George Washington Duke has about Rocky having “fought wars in the ring.”

  43. Some good line in this one. I always dug the “We were supposed to be like this, Tommy. Like this!! And you blew it!” moment. Rocky’s “bum from the neighborhood” meltdown in the street is classic, as well.

  44. The Original Paul

    November 26th, 2015 at 4:29 am

    I have never been punched in the face while viewing a ROCKY movie. I now feel as though I’m missing out.

    Put me on the side of the people who don’t hate ROCKY 5 but acknowledge that it’s a deeply flawed movie.

  45. Eagerly awaiting Neal2Zod’s revisit of this one.

  46. Thanks Fred – has there ever been a series more entertaining or satisfying to binge-watch than this? Rocky V has some big problems (the series’ worst character in George Washington Duke, the aforementioned 90s music and those two repetitive and over-long montages) but there’s so much interesting stuff that you have to give it credit. (Plus watching it in the middle of the series, as opposed to watching it at full price in a theater possibly thinking this is Rocky’s final movie really helps). Stallone is great (That meltdown Skani mentioned in the street is pure gold), even though I’m not sure why he suddenly talks like Steven Seagal circa Out for Justice. Gangster accent aside, you have to give him credit for spending the entire movie being “uncool dad” Rocky – he embraces his age, spending so much of the movie doing bad jokes and generally being embarrassing to his son, that you can’t believe this came out three years BEFORE he was impaling dudes on stalactites in Cliffhanger).

    The Tommy stuff doesn’t work as well as it should but i love that Stallone thematically links it to the First Blood novel (where Trautman is forced to kill Rambo). Rocky tried to do the right thing, but he’s created his own Frankenstein’s Monster and reluctantly has to put him down. I heard they originally had him help Tommy up after knocking him down on the bus – I wish they included that since it would have been more feel-good, and it would have neatly paralleled how Rocky Jr. became friends with the bullies after kicking their ass. The Balboa’s are known for their hearts as much as their fists after all.

    Btw, anyone else get a Sam Raimi vibe from that last fight?? There’s so many crazy zooms and stretched images and fast-forwarded motion that it looks like something out of Evil Dead 2 (considering Rocky has brain trauma in this one I guess it makes sense). And despite this being the “unfun” one, the last five minutes has two of the biggest laughs in the series – 1) Robert yelling “Beat him up dad! He took my room!” during the fight. (The second montage clearly shows Tommy is STILL living in Rocky’s basement even after being like 22-0 – was Robert living with Paulie for a couple of years or something???) and Rocky’s line at the end – “I’ve been running up these steps for 20 years – and I never knew this building had valuable pictures in it”. I nearly spat out my drink when I heard that line.

    Side note: The old Shakespearean trope of a father/king favoring his badass non-biological “son” over his wimpy biological son has been a plot point in everything from Gladiator to a certain action movie out in theatres now (ok, it’s SPECTRE, the trailer basically says it anyway). But where else have we been asked to take the side of the wimpy son? Where else do we see this trope from the viewpoint of the well-meaning but clueless dad?? The fact that Stallone goes there in Rocky V shows that he had alot on his mind and even though he now says he “did it for greed”, I actually think this is the least commercial and most challenging of the series. I kinda love it for what it is, and any series where this is the “worst one” is a special series indeed.

  47. Great write up neal. Good to see that you see the value in ROCKY V. It’s become too cliche to just write this one off because everybody says it’s oh so bad. Sure it’s not perfect (which Rocky sequel really was though? well maybe II but that’s just IMO) but when it shines it really does shine brightly. I also agree that this is probably the best and most feel good movie franchise in history. It feels SO rewarding when you watch all 6 and then CREED so close to each other because you see it all shares the same DNA and it’s very admirable since these movies were never afraid to wear their heart on their sleeves. To me personally Rocky Balboa is without a doubt the greatest original character in American film history because of that.

  48. That´s it. I am convinced. You guys made me want to plough through these films!

  49. Thanks Broddie. I was worried to binge watch these because I felt I might get tired of the repetition (We tried binge-watching all the Aliens and Predators and by the end we were SO SICK of the “and then there were none” structure). But even though all these movies have literally the exact same structure (except V of course), each film changes things up and keeps things moving so much that you’re never bored (with the exception of the driving montage in IV). Like Vern mentioned, it really is like the 7 Up Series (or to a much, much lesser extent, the American Pie/Wedding/Reunion series) – we come back not for the plots but to spend a few more hours with characters we’ve grown to love.

    I’m glad you pointed out how much this series has its heart on its sleeve. People think Stallone is a big macho, stoic action star, but has any other “blockbuster” series been this emotional? My girlfriend cried at least once during EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE MOVIES. Even in Rocky III, the first foray into cartoon-land, if you don’t get misty-eyed during Mickey’s death you’re a monster. (She also cried through the entire second half of Creed, and don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, that’s just a fact).

    The best tear-jerking moment in V (among many) has to be Mickey’s cameo. I don’t care that he doesn’t really act like the Mickey we knew or that Mickey was never this nice to Rock onscreen before. (Or that I’ve never noticed the necklace before even though I heard it does appear in III and IV). It’s still a beautifully acted moment and you can tell Stallone knows that getting the waterworks going in his audience is just as big a part of the Rocky saga as getting their blood pumping.

  50. It definitely is a series not worried about making the audience get misty-eyed. When I rewatched ROCKY II a few days ago I couldn’t help but find myself crying at the end “Yo Adrian I did it!” first time I could remember that happening but I think knowing where both Rocky and Adrian end up in the end kinda influenced that. It was so beautiful to see so hopeful and prideful which are such core emotional elements of the series it’s almost poetic.

    I was just so completely engrossed by the final fight you would think it was the first time I’ve ever seen that movie but it’s ALWAYS been that effective to me. As you noted & Vern pointed out a lot of that has to do with our long time investment in these characters and their world & wanting to see we’re they’re currently at but man if that isn’t an effective formula I don’t know what is.

  51. I didn’t notice the necklace before either. I thought it was awkwardly made up for this one until I read otherwise.

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  53. I never saw this one til now. A latecomer to the ROCKY series, I saw the first four around the time BALBOA was released. I had heard endlessly that the fifth was a slog, so I decided to give the series a break for a week or so.

    Turned out to be a darn long week!!

    Anyway, after seeing Sly in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, I decided it was time to catch up with the gloved one.

    And, I don’ t know if it was years of hearing how bad it was lowered my expectations, or if it was really ahead of its time or I was just in the mood…but I liked this. A lot.

    As pointed out, it is somewhat unpredictable. I didn’t know his protege would turn on him, or that it ends in a street fight. What really wowed me was that the protege character does a full Anakin to Vader turn to the dark side in one movie! With the Don’t King like George Washington Duke manipulating him Palapine like for his own gain…creating a monster in the process!

    And speaking of George Washington Duke, hilarious that he is also the coroner in JASON GOES TO HELL. A small role, but an infamous scene. He might specialize in really disliked chapters of long franchises!

    While it’s cheesy here and there, something about this hit me as gold. Not the best in the series…but by far the most underrated. I caught up with BALBOA the next day, and I gotta admit…I liked this one better. This has an honesty to it you can feel.

  54. I have finally reached the point where I saw all movies (minus CREED 2, which only started over here a few days ago). Before this weekend, I only knew BALBOA and CREED. And I have to say that this series will never have a special place in my heart. The only one that I legitimately like was part 4 and even that one only punched its way into my heart, because of its ultra-80sness. Now I’m not saying that these movies are bad. They all have their qualities, but I guess just like war movies, the boxing movie is a genre that I simply can’t warm up to.

    Now I kinda wanna rewatch BALBOA, but honestly, I got too attached to Adrian and I’m afraid that it would break my heart.

  55. Also what I originally wanted to say but totally forgot: I like ROCKY 5. It’s maybe my 2nd favourite of the series. The father/son conflict is a bit corny and it’s a real bummer to see Rocky and his family become poor because of that damn Robotfucker Paulie, but it has a good story and ends with the 2nd best fight of the series.

  56. Everything you have just said here is wrong, oh so very wrong, but I appreciate your outsider’s take on a series I am pathological incapable of seeing with any objectivity whatsoever.

  57. So you are saying Paulie never fucked the robot?

  58. Don’t be absurd. Paulie’s clearly had whiskey dick since the late 60s and couldn’t fuck a robot if he tried.

    But boy, did he ever try!

  59. As the second and arguably most Christmas-y of the ROCKY franchise, I introduced this one to my kids yesterday. Pretty much everything I said in 2015 holds up, and I also resonated with a lot of the other comments here. Above all, I stand behind my enjoyment of “Keep It Up” by Snap, which makes its own appearance and then gets mashed up with traditional Rocky theme music for the final fight, with the sound as frenetic and intense as the fight itself, which absolutely does have those Raimi-esque flourishes Neal mentions. I really freshly appreciated how weirdly artsy that last fight is (with all of the weird zooms, the intense score, and the chopping and screwing of Rocky IV footage — like when all that blood washes over Rocky’s face and how he is being swapped out for Apollo in IV, telegraphing that Tommy might kill him). I love that last fight, which is basically this film in a nutshell — a big weird swing of a movie that is not afraid to take everything that was great about ROCKY IV, do a complete 180, and usher us out of the 80s and into the Old Man Rocky era. Still not a great film by any conventional standard (I give it only 2.5 stars on Letterboxd) but an enjoyable and important one for this ROCKY completist.

    Can’t wait for CREED III. I love Jonathan Majors for the opponent — possibly the most thespianatically qualified Rocky/Creed “villain” ever. I like when they get real boxers or general-purpose menacing dudeds, but Majors is bringing a different energy in this trailer, and I am here for it.

  60. Skani, glad Rocky V still holds up – and yes, I’m beyond excited for Majors in Creed III. I have the feeling he won’t be acting anything like his character from the final episode of Loki, but man that was a performance for the ages for me. It’s seriously up there in my book with Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Brittany Murphy in Drive – a performance where you’re absolutely spellbound and delighted while watching it, but also kinda wondering “what’s up with the acting choices being made here?” I can’t wait to see what he does as a Rocky villain.

  61. After my positive experience watching the ROCKY IV Director’s Cut I finally bit the bullet on watching the ROCKY V workprint. It can be found easily online, and not just on scary websites, but ones you know and use too (on the most common one it’s listed as “Screener”); supposedly John G Avildsen first leaked it himself all the way back in 2002. I should watch that John G Avildsen documentary to see if they discuss it at all. I bet that they do not.

    There are some notable differences; for one thing none of the Hammeresque and Hammer-sponsored Rap tracks are on there, although I should warn all you Boltophobes out there that there is one Michael Bolton song. I could have missed it but I think the suggestion that Rocky can’t do commercials because that would somehow expose his somehow never previously exposed “criminal background”, so maybe that was a last minute fix that, of course, just made things worse.

    I would say this cut was a little more interesting in some ways, but while I don’t quite share that whippersnapper November 23rd, 2015 at 2:36 pm Pacman2.0’s overconfidence in saying that Stallone had lost understanding of his own creation, I sadly agree with his view that this thing just gets worse with every viewing, and I do think it is a very misjudged film to its very core. Only Richard Gant is really going the distance here for me.

    One piece of evidence for the defence on ROCKY V; the Cinemascore at the time was an A. I know you can’t read too much from a sample of a few people from the fewer-than-hoped people who saw ROCKY V on opening weekend, and for sure there are quite a few Cinemascores that seem divorced from the wider opining, but I still found that surprising/interesting.

    One thing I’ve never seen anyone bring up; is Stallone the only artist who has ever had or ever will have major envy over ARTHUR 2: ON THE ROCKS? There are some weird parallels between this and that sequel of some two years earlier, with its financially hobbled and humbled protagonist forced to give up his defining activities, and cameo appearance from a deceased 80something mentor character.

  62. A friend has told me I have to see the Sly documentary — and he’s probably right. Kay Kay had already put it back on my radar.

    ROCKY V is definitely one of those films like NIGHTMARE 5, where I was so geeked at being old enough and into it enough to see it in the theatre, that there was a complete halo over the film — it could be hot garbage (and maybe was!), and I’d still be team this-is-fucking-awesome.

    So, not only am I clearly never truly objective about anything, I’m especially and highly not objective about these franchises, and that means that I’ll be unforgivably forgiving toward these. Man, whether it was Rocky or Freddy or Jason, all of these guys really limped out of the 80s and into and through the 90s after having hit these incredible highs in mid-late 80s. That stretch of 89-90 was a tough 18 or so months, as if the gods were saying: It’s a new decade, you’re over, beeeyotch.

    I digress with purpose. Even ROCKY V does kind of suck, it’s got some unique and important-to-the-franchise stuff. I like the street brawl, I actually like the shitty pop hip-hop that Vern and everyone hates (it is shitty, but I still get hyped for that last fight), I like the decision to re-impoverish Rocky, I like the plot about losing and re-discovering your priorities (both in terms of the poverty and in terms of all the Balboas’ journeys and the father-son stuff), I do have a soft sport for GW Duke (touch him at your own risk: he might sue).

    Aside from the aforementioned threats of litigation, my favorite lines in this one have to be:

    “You know what, Tommy, you’re a piece of garbage.” – From Paulie, no less. Man, that has to be rock bottom.
    “No, fellas, this ain’t no pie-eatin’ contest.” – Rocky to the barflies who offer to help him with Tommy.

    I’m sure I’ve cited those before. Probably several times. So sue me. For what?

    In conclusion, yeah, can’t defend this to the casual Rocky fan, much less the hardened skeptic, but I still kinda love.

    As a wise song once said, Pacman: Keep it up.

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