You know, I didn’t grow up watching the Rocky series the way that some people did. Oh sure, I had Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but somehow I missed out on this very important film series. So I’m just now making my way through, and because I haven’t been thinking about the movies until now, I haven’t had the chance to get inundated with other people’s ideas about what the movies are like. I was on my own in this crazy, mixed-up world. And so, as I’ve said in so many of my previous reviews, I realized that the original Rocky is a romance and I have had my heart set on the rest of the series being equally as romantic ever since.
That brings us to Rocky V, which is apparently considered by most people to be the worst of the series. One friend told me that I would be better off skipping it. Another incredulously asked me why I had even bothered after I did watch it. I don’t really understand this line of thought – although, of course, we are likely watching the movies for different reasons. Even if Rocky V doesn’t match the heights that some of its predecessors have, at least it doesn’t have a giant talking robot. That’s got to count for something.
Perhaps this antipathy stems from the fact that a lot of this “final” chapter in the series is not about our intrepid hero at all, but is instead about his son, Rocky Jr. (played by Stallone’s actual son), and his dealings with neighborhood bullies. Or maybe it comes from the fact that part of the movie is about Rocky’s training of an up-and-coming fighter named Tommy Gunn.. er, excuse me, Tommy “The Machine” Gunn. I don’t think it’s so much this training subplot that people find repulsive, as the fact that it’s used to create a ridiculous dilemma for Rocky with regards to his relationship with his son. He doesn’t spend enough time with Rocky Jr., and that’s hurting their relationship, because he seems to like Gunn more. It’s not wrong to have a story about poor dynamics in a father-son relationship, but I’d expect more out of the fantastic Rocky series than something as obvious and lame as this.
Still, I can only speculate that these are the problems that other people find in the movie given that they’re the biggest flaws that I have to harp on. I mean, other than the fact that the character of George Washington Duke, a Don King-like boxing promoter, is super annoying. But I’d like to point to the moments that made the movie work for me instead of dwelling on the negative aspects, because although this movie is not nearly as good as some of the others, I still liked it more than I disliked it.
There’s a quote on one of the RottenTomatoes blurbs for Rocky V that I think really captures the film well: “Much-maligned but sporadically effective…” The movie is indeed only sporadically effective, but those moments are so clear and moving that it’s difficult to ignore them. I really started the movie with this idea that it was not very good in mind. Early on, the Balboas’ fortune is lost to a sleazy accountant who apparently took all their money and skipped the country… and then they find out that Rocky has brain damage, although that isn’t really important other than as a way to make him a boxing manager instead of a boxer. This is all pretty dumb, and the fact that they end up moving back to the exact neighborhood that they lived in during the first movie is a little bit hackneyed – a grab for attention for the FINAL movie in the series.
But then, dejected, Rocky returns to the boxing ring where he first trained with Mickey so long ago. Standing there in the dark, empty gym, he remembers a moment from the past when Mickey stopped his training to deliver an impassioned monologue about how important Rocky was in his life. This isn’t a scene cut from a previous film – Meredith really came back to perform this monologue and it is spectacular. It’s not really in Mickey’s character, but it’s so damn heartbreaking that that doesn’t really matter. And then the way that Rocky begins crying in the dark immediately afterward… I said aloud, “Dammit, Rocky V, you’re winning me over.”
Cut to a stock shot of the city with some funky hip-hop reminding us that it’s the ’80s and we’re back in the movie we’ve been watching. You’re losing me again, Rocky V. We’re back with the annoying subplot about the kid and the insufferable Jar Jar, um, I mean George Washington Duke. Still, these brief moments of magic keep surfacing. Stallone puts on the costume that he wore in the first film and plays it off as reminiscing instead of a cheap reference. It pays off, though, when later information about Adrian surfaces and the couple share a tender moment together that Rocky IV never even came close to. And frankly, minus the way the relationship affects his son, the Rocky-Tommy pairing is a fairly enjoyable one. Having Rocky trying to fill Mickey’s shoes and recreate the spark with a totally different boxer is an exciting idea, even if Tommy’s power isn’t fleshed out as well as it could have been. They introduced an idea about him beating his abusive father up, but it’s never expanded upon.
Altogether, though, I feel that Rocky V wasn’t all that bad. There are certainly a list of things that could have been better, but those moments that captured some of what made the series a joy is what I will treasure. So I liked it. This movie was just fine.
This review was written 02/03/2010.