Retrospective: Rocky V is Actually Good

Encore went ahead and had a Rocky marathon on New Year’s Day and I went ahead and watched it.  Not every second of all 6 films without a significant break (though I’ve done that before…..twice), but bits and pieces of all throughout the day as I flipped back to football and suffered from a strain of flu similar in symptom complex to the Spanish Flu of 1918. Next year I’ll probably go ahead and get that shot.

Surprisingly, the film that grabbed my attention on this occasion more than the others was Rocky V. Sure, I watched snippets of the Oscar winning original (you must always remind people that the original won Best Picture) and caught the training montages in IV that somehow never get old (the beard!) – but V actually had me genuinely hooked. I watched the entire second half of the film.  Maybe it’s not all that surprising, I’ve always felt Rocky V was a little misunderstood. Let me explain why.

Rocky V had the misfortune of being released 5 years after Rocky IV, which to any United States born male with a birth date between roughly 1967 and 1980 was quite simply the most heart pumping, inspiring, thrilling, hate-the-Russians-ing movie of all time. To quote Mickey (Rocky’s trainer) from a Rocky V flashback, it was “motivizational.” I can vividly recall commiserating with my elementary school classmates about how horrifying it was when Apollo got his ass kicked by the Russian (to actual bloody death), about how terrifying Drago was (“If he dies, he dies”) and about how the final 40 minutes of the film had given my young life new meaning and hope. Not your average movie.

So Rocky V was always going to be compared to Rocky IV – and it was always going to lose. But it’s an apples to oranges comparison, and here’s why: Rocky IV was, at its core, an action movie.  Sure there was some drama involved – the rehashed ‘Adrian doesn’t want Rocky to fight but she comes around in the end’ story line – but at its core Rocky IV was a 1980’s action movie. An amazing one.  An all timer. But an action movie. But the original Rocky wasn’t an action movie – did I mention it won best picture in 1976?  Rocky V wasn’t an action movie either – it was more of a drama. Closer to the family of the original Rocky, Rocky II, and the concluding piece – Rocky Balboa. Here’s the other thing: Rocky V was actually good.

I know what you’re probably thinking: I’ve seen Rocky V. It sucks. It isn’t good at all.

Sure, that’s what you told yourself in 1990, when you were young and stupid and your heart rate had barely returned to normal following Rocky IV 5 years earlier. You still had the cassette soundtrack to IV in your car – I know I did – and probably listened to it on the way to the theater. You were disappointed. I get it.

Do yourself a favor, try watching it again now. Start to finish. You won’t regret it.

You’ll find the following 5 hidden gems in Rocky V, which I provide you now for further convincing:

1. Rocky V actually has a good story. Now that you’re an adult, especially if you have children, this movie will appeal to you. The drama around Rocky’s relationship with his son is well played – though on a sad side note the character of the son is actually played by Sage Stallone (Sylvester’s actual son) who passed away in 2012. The story of how the Balboa’s lose their wealth is very realistic and happens to athletes all the time. Rocky’s involvement with Tommy Gunn’s boxing career certainly didn’t satisfy the action seekers who came back from IV, but again, it was realistic and entertaining to watch.

2. Talia Shire might have delivered her best moment of the entire series in Rocky V, right here:

I mean, it doesn’t get any more passionate and real than that.  It’s just perfect.  In context, it’s even better.  So watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

3. The much maligned street fight with Tommy Gunn, was actually pretty cool. Now that we’ve had 25 years for the disappointment to die down surrounding the fact that Rocky V wasn’t a rematch with Drago or some other such silliness – let’s all take a deep breath and acknowledge that *Tommy Gunn was a P.O.S. and needed to have his ass kicked. In that street. By Rocky. Add to that the fact that Rocky wasn’t even going to stoop to Gunn’s level and fight were it not for the fact that Gunn punched Uncle Paulie in the face. After Paulie called Gunn a “piece of garbage,” and a, “goddamn joke,” and referred to his entourage, including the esteemed George Washington Duke, as “rat bums.” After Paulie fell, Rocky said simply: “You knocked him down, why don’t you try knockin’ me down? My ring’s outside.” Boom. Fight on. *Not referring to Tommy Morrison who also tragically passed away, in 2013.

4. Mickey Flashbacks. Burgess Meredith, who played “Mickey” in the first 3 films before being killed off in 3 – reappeared in this film in several moving flashbacks. I think the best way to describe these sequences are: FU*KING AMAZING. You’ll have to watch to get the full effect, but let me just say: “I didn’t hear no bell. Get up you sonofabitch, cause Mickey loves you.”  #eyesmoist

5. Elton John, Series Montage During Closing Credits – Measure of a Man. There are no words. There are. No words. The most unheralded part of maybe all 6 films – and if you’re watching it on regular TV it gets cut out. But here it is, in it’s pure, undeniable beauty. You’re welcome: