Is Matt really going to let me get away with this? If someone doesn’t stop me, I WILL devote the next several hundred words to debating the merits of the 4th and 5th installments of the Rocky franchise on the company blog… I mean it…
I’m still typing… I guess this is actually happening.
Guess what, Internet? I LIKE Rocky V. And you want to know what else? I actually think it’s better than Rocky IV.
Now let’s pause a moment for all the Rocky neophytes out there. Don’t worry, any Rocky fans reading this are too preoccupied with their disgust to notice that we’ve slowed down.
This is a big deal, guys. Any Rocky fan can tell you that NO ONE defends Rocky V, not even Sylvester Stallone. The film is universally recognized as a dumpster fire. In fact, just take a moment and Google it. Go ahead and try to find one ranking of the film franchise that doesn’t have Rocky V at the very bottom. It can’t be done.
Conversely, Rocky IV is sort of beloved. Is it campy? Absolutely. Overly steeped in 80's clichés? You bet. However, at some point in the past 30 years, the whole world got together and decided these qualities only add to the film’s enduring charm. No one would think twice if you announced that Rocky IV was your favorite in the franchise. That’s considered a perfectly normal opinion.
All of these people are wrong.
Let’s start with IV’s most glaring deficiency – its total lack of a narrative.
For a movie, this is a pretty big problem.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good training montage followed by a savage beating as much as the next Rocky fan and IV definitely has those things in spades. But that’s all it has. And that alone is not enough to carry a Rocky movie.
The best thing about the Rocky films is the massive arc of its central character. The six-film saga (I don’t count Creed) takes Rocky from rags to riches all the way back to rags again, and with the exception of IV, every chapter is devoted to Rocky’s struggle to navigate this path, both professionally and personally.
IV is about Rocky winning the Cold War. That’s basically it.
The end result is a somewhat hollow culmination. Again, I’m not saying it doesn’t have its moments. Like every other grown man, I jump out of my seat the instant Rocky’s corner man screams out “HE’S CUT!” and shadowbox through the rest of the fight. You’re weird if you don’t do that. But still, it feels slightly empty.
Rocky V brings back some actual story and it’s better for it. Fresh off the plane from Moscow, suddenly poor (Paulie is the worst) and now suffering from brain damage, Rocky finds himself back where he started: the bottom. Only this time, there’s no way back to the top and now Rocky is struggling to hold on to the one thing he still has – his family.
Sounds like the makings for a pretty good movie, right?
On top of that fantastic setup, Rocky V boasts something no other Rocky movie has – Tommy Gunn.
Tommy “the machine” Gunn is hands down the biggest jerk Rocky encounters in his 30+ year career. All of Rocky’s other opponents through the years have their charm, or at the very least, merit. But you hate this hayseed the second he steps off the bus from Oklahoma and starts pestering Rocky for training help. There is absolutely nothing to like and you’re supposed to feel that way. Everyone other than Balboa can sense that there’s something off with this guy.
But Rocky has a giant heart. Always has. And despite the better judgement of his friends and family and the fact that his own life is in need of some serious mending, Rocky agrees to let Tommy Gunn into his world and proceeds to turn him into a championship fighter.
You’d think Tommy would be grateful, right? Nope. He decides to go the other way with it and turns into a petulant little child, blaming Rocky for the media’s perception that he is just a paper champion that will forever be in Balboa’s shadow. The movie climaxes with Tommy Gunn dragging a television crew down to Rocky’s neighborhood bar to issue a challenge, and at the very least, embarrass and belittle his former mentor on live TV. Of course, Rocky wants no part of it, and for a moment, it seems like cooler heads will prevail.
But then Tommy decks Paulie. And no one hits Paulie.
AH! You can’t tell me you don’t want to sit down and watch the rest of this movie right now! Watching Rocky put Tommy in his place is easily one of the most satisfying moments in any Rocky film and that’s because Tommy is such a deserving target.
And with that, hopefully I have changed some minds about Rocky V. Give it another shot. It deserves one.
And the very least, I have opened the door for Nick De Leeuw to write that Die Hard blog we’ve all been dying to read.