It is difficult to write about Rocky V due to the decades of disdain that have accumulated on it. I’m therefore going to take a cue from Polonius and be as brief as I can, for the kindest thing to be said at this point is also the truest. Its themes are more ambitious than its execution.
The first major misstep is a refusal to acknowledge the real passage of time. You can get away with film stories in immediate succession for a little, but the cumulative effect is exponential, not linear. At this point, 14 years after the original Rocky, it’s asking a lot of the audience to ignore real-world ageing.
Bringing director Avildsen back was meant to transfer credibility to a series trying to hold onto the magic. But Rocky’s time had passed, both on screen and with audiences.
To its credit, there’s an attempt to deliver a series finale about mortality, lifestyle, and the crass commercialism that corrupts sports. Following the template of laying the hero low so that he can battle back at the finish, Rocky’s entire fortune is wiped out and he’s forced to go back to the beginnings that shaped him.
It’s populated by the same sort of broadly-drawn characters that defined III and IV, and unfortunately they rob the film of any potential durability. Even a clever means to bring back Burgess Meredith can’t pay off.
READ MORE: Looking back on the first Rocky movie
Rocky V‘s biggest character sin though, is robbing Balboa of the victory in IV. While there’s plenty to critique in that entry, he didn’t just defeat an opponent, he found redemption for a dead friend, and acted as an ambassador of forgiveness and unity between superpowers. To take all that away feels even more unnecessary than anything before. It’s just asking too much of the audience. The thrill is gone, and most of the performances feel mechanical and obligatory.
With time, I end up more accepting of Rocky V. Part of it is the passage of time, and the desire to look for the good in things. Part of it is the fact that I’ve seen truly terrible movies that put it in perspective. It’s fun to trash unpopular franchise entries, but it’s important to remember that, for the most part, they’re not the train wrecks we pretend they are.
Trust me, I’ve seen much worse than Rocky V, and I suspect you have too. We should all try to remember that the next time we bring out the long knives for it.
As a personal note, seeing Rocky V was the final date I had with my first serious girlfriend. A testament to what a selfish dope I was is that I insisted on seeing a movie about an ageing boxer instead of something she likely would have enjoyed more.
The joke was on me, because neither of us liked it.