Posts Tagged ‘Rocky V’

Rocky V was released in 1990, the dawn of a new decade. It opens with the usual montage showing highlights of the last film’s fight, except it’s not the usual montage. Instead of exciting the audience, it’s very foreboding, focusing on the damage Rocky is taking, with occasional freeze frames that turn black and white.

Cut to the aftermath, Rocky’s hands are trembling in the shower, and it is evident something’s not right with him. Things continue to turn worse as he returns home. Apparently his accountant has ripped him off and as a result he’s lost his fortune. Fighting turns out not to be an option to regain it, as after seeing a Dr. he apparently is in the early phases of brain damage.

This whole set up is for the purpose of getting Rocky back to his old neighborhood. Paulie has kept his old house, which they all move back into, and one of the only assets Rocky still has is Mickey’s old gym, which was willed to Rocky’s son.

So with a rap remake of “Take it Back” (originally by Stallone’s brother) we see Rocky back in the streets. One night, after drinking at the neighborhood bar from the first movie, he walks into the old abandoned gym. Here we get an apocryphal flashback scene of a young Rocky training in the gym with Mickey. Given this was supposed to be the last Rocky, I wasn’t surprised to see Burgess Meredith reprise his role as Mickey. He gives a nice little speech you can watch below.

“Get up you son of a bitch! Cause Mickey loves ya.” Vintage Mickey.

Back to the main plot. Rocky ends up re-opening Mickey’s gym, and comes across a young Tommy Gunn, played by real life boxer and relative of John Wayne, Tommy Morrison. Seeing a young and hungry boxer, Rocky personally manages him and becomes a father figure to him. This puts a strain on his relationship with is son, who is now going to an inner city school in Philly and having trouble with bullies (and has magically aged since the last movie). Adrian, who is back working at the pet store from the first movie, is not pleased with Rocky either.

Meanwhile, David Washington Duke, a crooked boxing promoter, basically Don King, had been trying to lure Rocky back into the ring for one more match. Failing that, he manages to lure Tommy away and gets him a title shot. One aspect of boxing that was absent from this franchise was the crooked/dirty side of the business. Here it is vaguely hinted that Tommy’s win against champion Union Cane was fixed. Cane, also managed by Duke, had the title awarded to him after Rocky retired. Duke’s original plan was to have Cane fight Rocky for the title in Tokyo, in a bout that was to be called “Lettin it go in Tokyo.”

While champion, Tommy Gunn is not respected by the press, who still has “Balboa on the brain.” Duke convinces him that the only thing for Tommy to do is challenge Rocky. The climax of the movie is Rocky and Tommy getting into a street fight in the back of the bar Rocky frequents. The crowd cheers on Rocky, but is getting beat down a lot. Cue to the plot point of Mickey in Rocky’s mind whispering in his ear telling him to get up. Rocky gets up and wins the brawl.

Rocky V is by no means a good movie. Stallone at this point hadn’t been an actor in almost 15 years. He cast his real life son, the late Sage Stallone, to play Rocky’s son. Sage never acted before, and no disrespect to the guy but it shows. Some of the scenes and lines delivered are genuinely cringe worthy. Rocky Jr. falling into the wrong crowd is evident by him wearing an ear ring and smoking cigarettes, as if he fell into the wrong crowd of an 1970s ABC after school special. Stallone himself admitted that he was negligent during the making of this entry, and has openly said it’s his least favorite. On the Rocky DVD commentary director John Avildsen, who directed I and V, described Stallone on the set of V as “the prince of Lichtenstein.”

In fact in the next film, Rocky Balboa, clips from all previous films except V are shown, it is explicitly left out. The only remote references are lines of dialogue where Rocky mentions “home team,” and makes a comment about being “brittle.”

Rocky’s brain damage is also not addressed in the next movie. Stallone has said in interviews that in V Rocky never went for a second opinion, and with advances in medical science, it’s possible Rocky just had a concussion. Even if you don’t buy that explanation, you can almost watch Rocky Balboa under the assumption that V never happened.

The thing is if you read the script for Rocky V I’d bet it is probably a good script to read. It arguably has the most actual plot of any in the series. There was no way they could outdo Rocky IV in terms of over the top ridiculousness, so they took a different approach. Given the conceit that this was going to be the last Rocky, it was a good idea to go back to the beginning, to go back to the old neighborhood with the familiar places from the first movie. The plot of Rocky being a teacher to the next generation fit this as well. While nodding to that past, at the same time it tried to bring Rocky into the 90s with a hip hop sound track, and attempted to make “go for it” a new catchphrase. That didn’t take.

In the long run, if Rocky V didn’t put certain things in place, both in real life and in the world of fiction, I don’t think the next movie would have worked as well. Getting him out of his mansion and back into the old neighborhood arguably helps us have more sympathy for him in the beginning of Rocky Balboa. More importantly, the overall disappointment with V was what drove Stallone to make Rocky Balboa, easily the best of all the sequels.

Interestingly enough, a director’s cut of Rocky V was at one point available on YouTube. It’s not much different, but has two things of note. First, Rocky reveals in a conversation with Paulie that he’s not taking any money managing Tommy. More importantly, there’s a scene where he runs into Little Marie, the young girl he walked home in the first movie. Marie, now and adult, is a street bum and presumably a prostitute, something Rocky had warned she might turn out to be. Just after this scene, he runs into Tommy on the street. During this part, which makes the theatrical cut, Tommy tries to convince Rocky to manage him. Tommy says he’s got nothing in his life but boxing, and if this doesn’t work out he doesn’t know what he’ll do. In the directors cut, as this conversation is happening, Rocky looks back and can still see Little Marie loitering in the street. He makes the connection that if he doesn’t help Tommy, he’ll turn out to be a bum like Little Marie. This is a very interesting scene. Little Marie was taken out because it was too dark, but you can understand Rocky’s motivation here. However, if this scene was left in, it makes Little Marie’s appearance in Rocky Balboa not work as much.

Also of note, it was revealed after Rock V’s release that the director and Stallone planned to have Rocky die at the end. That certainly would have put a damper on things. Consequently, I think we have to see Rocky die in a Creed sequel. I thought for sure he was going to die in Creed, but I’m going to guess he’ll die in Creed III, as Mickey died in Rocky III.

Again, Rocky V by no means is a good movie. However I would argue that the basic plot was fitting for the time, and that overall it is not actually the worst Rocky movie.

I will leave you with the closing credits of Rocky V, set to Elton John’s Measure of a Man set to black and white still images from all five movies. Note that in a few of the still shots of the first Rocky are backwards lol.

Advertisements

2016 is the 40th anniversary of the movie Rocky, and also happens to be the year I turn 40. There’s probably no other set of movies that are so ingrained into my life. I’d thought a lot about writing about this series, so here goes. What I’m going to do is write a piece about each movie, not just a review, but how each film was a part of my life. I would start with Creed, but I did review that when it came out, which was just last year so I don’t think I have anything new to say about it. So I’ll start with 2006‘s Rocky Balboa and move backwards from there.

Rocky V came out in 1990, and at the time was billed to be “the last Rocky film.” However, it was neither a financial or critical success. Throughout the 90’s there were rumors off and on of Stallone wanting to do another, but they never got off the ground. In fact, on the DVD commentary track of Rocky Balboa, Stallone recalls a studio executive telling him another Rocky movie will get made “over my dead body.”

Eventually through a change in management the project got green lit. I remember hearing about it in the news, and even though I was a big fan, I was till like “man just let it go Sly.” While Rocky V wasn’t as good I thought it wrapped the series up well under the premise that this would be it. Plus, what could a Rocky movie set in the 21st century possibly be about?

Cut to 2006. At some point I was at home surfing the internet, and, back when YouTube was a brand new thing (which is a whole story in itself, YouTube was launched in 2005), somehow, someway I stumbled upon this video.

This was super intriguing to me (I remember wondering if he said “What is it you said today kid,” or “What is it you said to the kid?”). I was surprised how dark it was. Nothing about the plot, just this message that life is absolutely brutal, but you just gotta keep moving and take the hits.

Not to get too heavy, but around this time I was going through a real low point in my life. I’m a teacher by trade, but found myself in a different profession. For various reasons I ended up taking a job teaching in South Korea in the summer of 2006. If I remember correctly a second trailer dropped after I got to Korea, followed by a third. These last two trailers revealed more of the plot, and I watched them religiously, but with cautious enthusiasm.

The release date date was December 20th, right before my 30th birthday. In Korea often times the big blockbuster movies open prior to their American release dates, but other movies come later. It did not come to Korea right away, but eventually arrived in February of 2007.

Rocky Balboa was the only Rocky I’d actually seen in the theaters (until last year’s Creed). The theater was packed, and I turned to a Korean next to me asking if he was a Rocky fan. He said “All my life.”

It was a pleasant surprise. I remember early on thinking to myself “Wow this is actually really good.” If you haven’t seen it, the basic plot is Adrian has died, and Rocky’s been racked with grief since. Not knowing what to do with himself, he decides to be active in boxing again, but his intentions are not to do big fights. In his mind he sees himself doing small local fights just to be active. Meanwhile, the current Heavyweight boxing champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon is very unpopular, and is accused of taking easy matches. Balboa is reluctantly goaded into accepting an exhibition match with Dixon. Rocky faces public ridicule and doubt for fighting at his age, but he uses this fight to exorcise his demons and deal with the grief of losing is wife. Just as the first movie did, Rocky Balboa paralleled where Stallone was in his life at the time. Stallone faced the same ridicule for making another Rocky that the fictional character faced for having another fight, and it worked. The whole movie had the theme of doing what you needed to do despite the criticism you will catch for doing it.

On the DVD commentary Stallone says this scene below reflects the frustration he faced in trying to get this movie made.

“It’s your right to listen to your gut, it aint nobody’s right to say no when you earned the right to be where you wanna be and do what you wanna do.” I can honestly say this scene shook me when I first saw it in the theater.

Then there’s this scene.

Stallone says it is his understanding that this scene affected people most. It’s the same speech from the teaser trailer, only done more dramatic, with the added line “that’s how winning is done!” The son is really seeing what his father is made of, and there is Rocky on the screen, telling his son, telling me, telling the audience directly, this is life, this is what it takes to get through life.

Only Stallone could have directed Rocky Balboa, however, another director might have developed Mason’s character more, for  it is as much his story as it is Rocky’s. One way the script gets around how Mason wouldn’t beat Rocky right away, is that Mason’s hand gets broken in the second round. This puts him in his own Joseph Campbell like journey where he must prove himself, his own trial by fire.

Having said that, one way we judge art, apart from its technique and aesthetics, is how it affects us personally. Granted, a lot of the emotional weight of this movie rests on knowing its previous entries, but I doubt there will be many movies in the rest of my lifetime that will genuinely affect me this much. A message from my favorite movie character of how you gotta do what you gotta do lined up just about perfectly for me. Rocky Balboa is simply the best Rocky sequel, and is almost the best of the series.