#131 – #135 Rocky – Rocky V

Rocky (1976)

Dir: John G. Avildsen

That’s an interesting way to tenderise meat!

I don’t think I need to outline the story much, it’s so well-known, but briefly Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is an amateur boxer who would like to make it big, but doesn’t get selected for the good fights because he’s a southpaw (left-handed). However, when world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is looking for a newsworthy opponent to face him in an unprecedented fight, the unknown ‘Italian Stallion’ southpaw is the perfect choice to take him on for the title.

This is a sporting movie with a really unusual romance included. In this first film the relationship between Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) doesn’t work for me as a convincing romance, there’s something seriously lacking there as a good reason for her to be so drawn to him, though this does have the ability to be developed in latter films.

Rocky himself is strangely lovable, though he’s not the most erudite of characters there’s something nice about that, though at times just a little more insight into his thoughts might be nice in a way.

The end culminates in the boxing match that it’s all been building to, the conclusion of which doesn’t go quite how many sporting movies would, and really begs for a rematch, although both opponents say in the ring that there won’t be one.

Rocky II (1979)

Dir: Sylvester Stallone

The rematch!

Yep I know they said there wouldn’t be one, but of course there would! The first film did so well in terms of box office and critical acclaim that there had to be more, and this is the perfect basis for that storyline.

I like how the first few minutes are the last few minutes of the last one exactly, not even from different angles, therefore it picks up precisely where ‘Rocky’ left off. The opening titles are simple no-frills, revealing the same producers, and Sylvester Stallone now taking on the role of directing too as well as writing and starring.

Given the extra time with him and Adrian, their relationship is starting to work, even as they are suffering difficulties on-screen, at least it’s feeling more like a viable screen romance. Rocky struggles to make the most of his first fight with Creed by endorsing products, finding that acting in commercials is not something he’s suited to. Taking manual labour at his brother-in-law Paulie’s (Burt Young) meat-packing plant to help with the bills, he essentially leaves the sporting world behind. However, Apollo Creed is being taunted about their match, with his ability challenged and his pride at stake, he tempts Rocky back into the ring for a rematch.

Pretty soon into the film there’s a wedding, something you might have expected from the ending of the previous films, but obviously the films were written to conclude with the big fight and then let the aftermath be kept for any sequels. This does indeed follow that format from the previous film, concluding with the big fight, this time with Rocky and Apollo both with something to prove, and a title at stake!…

Rocky III (1982)

Dir: Sylvester Stallone

Now that he’s the heavyweight champion of the world, what next?

Thankfully this installment still remains fairly consistent in the opening style, and opens again with the last few minutes of ‘Rocky II’ showing that things are continuing straight on. The film still has the same team behind it, with producers, writer and director all the same as the last one.

Rather than the opening being the last few minutes of Rocky II shown verbatim, this cuts in a little extra to set up the opponent very early on, using a montage showing up-and-coming boxer Clubber Lang (Mr. T) watching Rocky’s success, cut against his own, and all this set to the famous music of ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

The storyline then follows on in much of a now familiar way, with Clubber Lang determined to challenge Rocky’s title as Heavyweight champion, stating that he’s had it easy and only been pitted against easy opponents.Rocky discovers from his trainer Mickey that this is true and the two of them part ways, however Clubber Lang inadvertently causes Mickey to have a heart-attack, knocking Rocky off his game. Old adversary-turned-friend Apollo Creed then comes to Rocky’s aid and offers to help him get back on fighting form so he can have his vindication and uphold the name of their sport.

Somehow Rocky is becoming far more erudite at this point, there’s a considerable change in him, with much more dialogue and real sentences being formed. It’s a bit odd considering the huge amounts of blows he receives to his head, he should have started as a verbose individual and progressed towards the monosyllabic man from there. Funnily enough, not wanting to spoil things too much, but this fluctuates later on through the series.

This installment features quite a bit of humour, even with some somber elements there is still a general sense of fun. This is most especially noticeable with the cameo by Hulk Hogan playing a wrestler called ‘Thunderlips’ who Rocky takes on in a charity fight. Other lighter and more amusing moments for me included Mr T saying “I pity the fool”, and the friendly ending with Apollo, where that classic theme of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is used yet again, and even included in dialogue.

The film cleverly contrasts Rocky’s training, in a real air of celebrity buzz surrounded by fans and even showered with bubbles, against Clubber’s training alone in what appears to be a basement. This technique works perfectly well to make the point that Rocky is slipping into the notoriety and celebrity status rather than keeping his focus on the quality training that he needs to truly be at his best and retain his title.

To show Rocky’s change in attitude towards the end of the film, he actually uses fighting talk for the first time, as I noticed he had not really done so before, preferring to be stoically quiet or determinedly pleasant when facing off against his opponents.

They again swear this is “Definitely the last one”… somehow I don’t quite believe it!

Rocky IV (1985)

Dir: Sylvester Stallone

Yet again he’s back on top, so why return? Well it’s simple… The Russians are coming!

Ok, maybe its a little more complicated than that. When the Russian boxing federation is looking to spread its influence and join the ranks of international boxing, the first stop on their conquest for dominion of the sport is the United States of America. Champion boxer Ivan Drago arrives and challenges the best that America has to offer, which theroetically is retired Rocky Balboa, but instead his new ally Apollo Creed sees this as an opportunity to defend his nation’s honour, and reassert himself as a champion. This plan goes devastatingly wrong, causing Rocky then to step up and do what he’s told he shouldn’t, fight this hulking brute of a man.

This film starts showing the influence of changing times, and is hugely impacted by the 1980’s. The opening is changed from that of the others, it’s not quite so simple and straightforward, it does still pick up where the last one finished though. Aiming to show more of a view of family life, lots more time is given to showing life in the Balboa household, much of it involving real conversations between Rocky and Adrian, potentially more than the previous 3 films combined. The film it practically starts with a family birthday dinner for Paulie, and his unbelievable gift of a clichéd 80’s robot!

The more interesting robotic character is Drago, who hardly speaks at all, most of his talking is done for him by his trainer or his wife (Brigitte Nielsen). I say he is robotic in that his manner is very rigid. Dolph Lundgren is great at looking tough, but possibly not so great at acting, so for the majority of the time he doesn’t actually speak, and when he does it is brief and tough lines delivered in a monotone with a heavy Russian accent. As a boxer he has a very different fighting style. Clearly on performance enhancing drugs, and thus it’s shown that he is an unfair opponent and must be beaten for the sake of ethics, not just because he’s Russian.

Not same enjoyment as the others, feels really different. Although it’s possibly one of the most memorable and interesting films of the series, that’s not always for the best reasons. For example, Rocky’s training routine is transposed to the harsher climate of Russia and given a makeover through the differences in this new location, but somehow that whole sequence feels a lot more cheesy because of this.

Music is more noticeable, and that’s not helped with this film feeling badly dated. It is just one of the elements that seems to have been made contemporary for the audience at the time, but now watching it nearly 30 years later it feels like an oddity in the series, whereas the original film has become a classic, this feels terribly dated, it has aged quite badly. What I really didn’t get is Paulie’s robot! By trying to be all technological and new, writing this like this into the film has caused it to age the worst out of all of them.

As with many films of the time, this features a political message heavily. Rocky is not just beating one Russian boxer, he is beating Communism and the Soviet regime, Wins over the crowd to support him. Makes a speech that moves even political leaders to want to end Communism. This is the foremost example of Rocky being uncharacteristically verbose and erudite, making a speech that would put President Bartlet from ‘The West Wing’ to shame (not really, but I’m being dramatic).

The end credits feature a photo montage, and there’s a retrospective montage of short clips from the series thus far that really looks quite bad, especially as it’s not the last one, or really released all that later than the previous one, a 5 year wait isn’t something that had people crying out in the streets oven when Rocky would return to the silver screen!

Again, Rocky tells Adrian that she’s “Never gettin’ rid of [him]”, and it’s starting to feel that way.

Rocky V (1990)

Dir: John G. Avildsen

Is this going to be the end for Rocky’s career, and his movie franchise?

We’re now entering into the 90’s, and thankfully putting some of the cheese of the 80’s behind, pushing it aside for the radical changes of the new decade. The opening is still not kept as simple as the first few, which is a shame, and that’s not the end of the changes that are made to the Rocky movie template.

Here Rocky’s repeated blows to the head cause him to retire yet again, with the warning that if he keeps boxing it will kill him. However, promoter George Washington Duke is determined to get Rocky to fight his current signing to boost his profile, and despite financial troubles Rocky declines. Instead her returns to his old neighbourhood and gets Mickey’s gym running again, taking on a young boxer by the name of Tommy Gunn, whose loyalties are tested.

Directed by the same man as the first film, in fact he had won the Academy Award for best director for that, so maybe he was brought back in as an attempt to put things back on track? Funnily enough it had the opposite effect. Partly due to the way it diverges so much from the winning formula of the past films it struggled in the U.S. box office, causing United Artists to cease their involvement with the series. In recent years Stallone has been quoted as saying that this one was made “out of greed”, and in a way that shows through in elements of the storyline that suggest Rocky himself as a character is being forgotten.

Though it follows on directly from Rocky IV, his kid has grown up years instantly, from 9 years old to a teenager. Rocky Jr was played by Sylvester Stallone’s real son Sage, who sadly died a few years ago. He is given his own side story, but it feels quite out of place and odd, the film could do without most of that. I think it is possible to get across the idea of a distracted dad and the way that affects his son without having to focus so heavily on the child or show quite so much, it really diverts attention away from Rocky and not in a needed way as his son isn’t really being pushed forward to be a main character.

I enjoyed the new character of nefarious George Washington Duke who was so obviously based on Don King, something I recognized instantly despite not being a fan of boxing.

To go with the very different storyline, there is also a very different soundtrack that has been changed with the times, including more Hip Hop, which doesn’t fit so well.

What also changes is the nature of the final fight between Rocky and his one-time protegé Tommy Gunn. This is moved from the traditional ring to the outside, where it becomes a bare-knuckle street fight. It’s really not in keeping with Rocky at all. This part of the screenplay was rewritten during production, it was meant to truly be Rocky’s final fight in that he was originally written as being killed during it. After watching the 5 films in a row, I strangely feel like that could have been a good idea, but alas Stallone had a change of heart and changed it, instead turning things overly sentimental and into the realms of schmaltzy, ending with another photo montage, this time with music by Elton John!

In conclusion then…

Strangely, this review has taken a very long time for me to write, as although I’ve merged the 5 films into one post, it was a surprising struggle to feel motivated in writing things, I had to look back over storylines for reminders, check a few things, and yet have not been enthralled writing this. Possibly I should have played ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on repeat!

It’s an interesting franchise, one that could so easily have been a single film, or a trilogy, but has turned into something far bigger! To see more about this, look at what I watched next…



2 thoughts on “#131 – #135 Rocky – Rocky V

  1. Pingback: #136 Rocky Balboa | tKnight Reviews

  2. Pingback: Creed (Oscar Nominee 2016) | NeverKissedAGirl.com

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