In an attempt to reclaim the dramatic glory of the first two Rocky movies, Sylvester Stallone brought back director John G. Avildsen and long time composer Bill Conti for what was to be the final chapter in the life of the slugger from Philadelphia in Rocky V.
Continuing straight after the events of Rocky IV, a clearly damaged Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) returns from Russia and – due to brain damage sustained in his fight against Ivan Drago – retries from professional boxing. Yet things get worse for “The Italian Stallion”, after it is revealed that his crooked accountant lost all of Rocky’s money on the stock market.
Moving back to the slums of Philadelphia, Rocky re-opens the gym owned by his later manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith, who returns in flashback sequences). There he meets and takes under his wing a hungry young fighter named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) who quickly rises to the top of the boxing world, only to be seduced by sleaze ball boxing promoter George Washington Duke (Richard Gant), who convinces Gunn that the only way to be seen as the best is to take on his former mentor.
Meanwhile, Rocky’s relationship with his son Robert (Sage Stallone) sours as he struggles with his new surroundings without the guidance of his father.
Rocky V does well by taking a serious approach and making the series feel like a character piece again. Stallone explores the relationships between father and son, teacher and student, all the while providing a commentary on the modern world of boxing and its pitfalls.
By focusing on the main characters mortality and having him start over from scratch, the film can get depressing. Indeed, Rocky was supposed to die in this one, but Stallone was reluctant, insisting it would be “like killing Superman”.
The performances are a mixed bag. Stallone is good (of not a little over the top), and the under used Talia Shire gives a very good performance (as she would in The Godfather Pt III). However the casting of real life boxing champion Tommy Morrison as Tommy Gunn is off the mark. He just does not have the unique look or character of a Dolph Lundgren or a Mr. T to distract the viewer from his wooden acting. Equally hideous is Sage Stallone, with Sylvester Stallone pulling a “Coppola” by casting his own flesh and blood in a major part to devastating results.
Yet the biggest problem within Rocky V is that of continuity. In an embarrassing over sight, Rocky returns from Russia only to find his son has aged by 5 years! Now, these movies have asked its audience to suspend reality many times before, but that is ridiculous. Also fitting that description is the inclusion of hip hop numbers, which does not suit the film at all.
The highlight of this film is, of course, the final fight scene. But this time out the fight is not in the ring, but on the streets. Choreographed by wrestling legend Terry Funk, the fight and the events leading up to it are a thrilling watch. Once again it is the editing that makes it worth while. There are several excellent cuts which portray eerie, black and white flashes of Rocky with blood pouring down his face like a crimson waterfall, and of Mickey looking down from Heaven.
The last 30 min make Rocky V a worthwhile watch, and even though there are numerous flaws, it’s a rather engrossing film and the most under rated of the Rocky movies.