I guess this is more a re-evaluation than a review. Over the past two weeks I rewatched Rocky 1, 2, 3 and 5. Part 4 I have seen often enough and it’s a fun flick for its own crazy reasons. Part 5 though, I think I have seen only once in the early 90s. I could barely remember anything except a rough plot outline. Now part 5 is universally seen as the rotten tomato of the series. After rewatching it I cannot exactly understand why that is. Is it a good movie? Maybe. Is it as bad as people generally say it is? I think it’s not.
The fifth movie in the Rocky series continues telling the story of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his family. I don’t think it’s necessary to explain all the background details of the series since Rocky pretty much is a pop culture icon and everyone knows this character. The movie starts with a flashback to what happened in the fourth film. We see how hard the fight between Rocky and Ivan Drago was and what price Rocky had to pay for winning that fight. So the 5th movie continues right after the fight and connects the 4th with the 5th movie rather well in my opinion. We learn that eveb though Rocky won the fight he did get injured and decides to stop boxing and retire. He wants to take care of his family and I guess we can all agree that he deserves some rest at this point. Out of nowhere shady boxing promoter George Washington Duke (Richard Grant) appears and wants to force Rocky into a new fight. Rocky declines. Rocky’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire) finally got his husband where she wants him and hopes for a peaceful time now with him and their son. Destiny strikes when Paulie (Burt Young) confesses that the family accountant basically wrecked their whole money on a shady real estate deal. Rocky immediately tries to turn Adrian around and wants her to allow him to box again. They need money very bad. Adrian refuses and Rocky respects her decision. Plus the fact that his health status isn’t the best. So the family sells the big house and pretty much all of its contents and moves back into their old neighborhood in Philadelphia. It’s not a good neighborhood and we can see how ashamed Rocky is about that. Even if the people there love and respect him. He managed to get out of the slums and now he’s right back where he startet. I think there is some good acting by Stallone here. He hates it to be there again. But he deals with the situation and decides to reopen Mickey’s old boxing gym. The place where he grew to be the champion he became. In the meanwhile that shady boxing promoter is still on his heels trying to get Rocky to do another fight. Suddenly Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) shows up and wants to train with Rocky and learn from him. Rocky sees the potential in the young man and agrees to train him. They soon have success and Tommy is corrupted by the fame and changes sides to that promoter guy. Last but not least it finals in a confrontation between Rocky and Tommy.
The movie deals with a couple of things that make it much more a drama than the action movies we had in part 3 and 4. It takes a far more personal route and reflects on Rocky’s career. Something that the movie ‘Rocky Balboa’, many years later, continues and does a little better. The character of Tommy Gunn is the son Rocky always wanted and he focusses a lot on him. He sees a lot of himself in him and wants to shape him into a successful fighter. In the meanwhile Rocky misses it to take care of his son when he needs his father the most. And it’s not like Rocky isn’t proud of his son and doesn’t like him. On the contrary, he loves his son and we get moments that prove it. But Rocky is disctracted by his work with Tommy. Rocky always was a rather simple minded character, without having a perspective on the broader spectrum too much. That’s why his wife Adrian and to a certain degree even his brother-in-law Paulie are there to guide him. They see what’s happening and try to bring Rocky back into focus. But his focus is entirely directed at getting his family out of the slums again. And his only chance is making it big and having success with Tommy.
I guess the quality of the film depends on how you watch the film. If you see it as the standalone product that is Rocky 5 then I can agree that it’s not a particularly good movie. A lot of elements feel forced and a little ham-fisted. Especially some of the youth rebellion parts of Rocky’s son (played actually not too bad by Sage Stallone). But I think the movie can (maybe should) also be seen as part of a larger story that brings the character of Rocky to a full circle and kind of closes his arc. When watching all the movies back to back I think this fifth movie works much better. We have seen the character grow and develop. Seen him win and lose. And in the fifth film we get an aftermath of his life. And it has some strong drama moments. Especially one scene where Rocky and Adrian talk something out outside on the open street. That’s a great scene where we again see how much Adrian admires Rocky and wants to help him while he is struggling with his self-doubts. A strong scene played very well by Stallone and Talia Shire.
The focus in this movie is clearly more personal and I guess after Rocky 3 and 4, that were kinda sorta pure showy movies, people wanted or expected more spectacle. But we have a movie that is more like the very first one. Clearly not as good but in the same category of it being more drama than action. It is a good thing that it shows something different instead of repeating the same stuff over and over again. It has good intentions and I also think it has heart. So looking at it with the whole series backing it… it does work for me. Much better than this ridiculous fourth film (even if it’s a lot of fun!).