Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
Director: John G. Avildsen
Running Time: 104 mins
Rocky V is an American film and the fifth in the Rocky series. Following his victory over Ivan Drago, Rocky Balboa retires from boxing, but is faced with multiple difficulties as his family faces financial trouble, and a zealous promoter trying to get him back in the ring, until he finds a new talent on the streets of Philadelphia.
This is by far the worst-reviewed of the Rocky movies, but I can’t understand for the life of me why. Sure, it’s not on the level of the original, but it’s a step in the right direction away from the enjoyable but ludicrous blockbuster antics of Rocky IV. In fact, Rocky V is the first movie in the franchise that commits to telling its story differently, and although it doesn’t work perfectly, it’s an admirable and genuinely engaging watch.
Admittedly, Rocky V does not get off to a good start. Following an abrupt retirement after his fight with Ivan Drago, Rocky and his family find themselves in financial trouble thanks to a rather forced deus ex machina plot device about their accountant stealing all their money.
What’s even weirder is that the Balboa clan hear about this, briefly get annoyed, and then just seem to move on without another word. Their descent to living on the poverty-stricken streets of Philadelphia once again is used as a starting block for this film’s rather heavy-handed perspective on the American Dream, but the reason that they find themselves in that situation at all is fairly unconvincing.
Where Rocky V really finds its feet, however, is in its quieter, much more measured middle act. The opening and closing phases of the film are often a little shrill, but the middle portion is fantastic, finally bringing Rocky’s son into the mix as we follow a story about fatherhood, looking to the past and the prospect of the future.
Again, there are times when the film’s main themes are a little too on-the-nose, but the fact that there are even dramatic themes to talk about after the crazy jingoism of Rocky IV is a real relief.
In tandem with a touching view on ambition and persistence even in the worst of circumstances, Rocky V is full of passionate, genuine emotion, as we see the complexities of Rocky’s family relationships while he finds himself trying to relive his past glory.
What’s more is that this film is the first in the series that doesn’t follow the pleasingly familiar but often repetitive narrative structure. Rocky V doesn’t build to a crescendo like the other movies and, for better or for worse, it really tries to tell a different story, with drama and family emotion front and centre over pure sporting action.
There are some great fight sequences here, although the use of shaky cam in the film’s final sequence is a little frustrating. But for the most part, this isn’t a movie about boxing, and I’m really pleased to see Stallone commit to telling such a tender, genuine story, even if it doesn’t work perfectly.
As I said, the film can be a little heavy-handed in its themes, and it briefly loses sight of its quieter side in a hectic final act. That’s not to say the more action-packed parts of the movie aren’t without depth, but they lack the same resonance of the fights in the series’ first instalments, and as such don’t get the blood pumping in quite the same way.
Overall, I liked Rocky V. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s in no way as bad a movie as is often touted. With a different approach to storytelling, the film is genuine, passionate and impressively touching at its best, with a sterling middle act bookended by two less-than-stellar portions. It’s not a great boxing film, but it’s an engaging and heartfelt drama throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5.