Home Boxing History Rocky V – What Went Wrong?

Rocky V – What Went Wrong?

Hopes must have been high when original director, John Avildsen returned to make the fourth sequel in the Rocky franchise, simply titled ‘Rocky V’. The original 1976 classic won three Academy Awards including one for Best Picture. And it catapulted Sylvester Stallone to stardom and produced a life long movie career for him which has led to Sly being known as one of cinema’s most definitive action heroes of the 1980’s.

So, what went wrong?

Well, that is the question that many fans love to answer. Me? I think flaws are subjective. And I do not recognise as many of them in Rocky V as quite a lot of others do. I agree that they could have done better than give the movie a hip hop heavy soundtrack. It just did not fit. I guess with hip hop, as a musical genre, coming through on the mainstream circuit at the time they thought it was a good idea to keep up with what was being drilled into the pop culture consciousness. But every time a (then) current song played over the action that familiar vibe we have of a Rocky film dissipated.

In Rocky V, Rocky Balboa sensibly retires from the ring after discovering that he has suffered some irreversible brain damage by the hands of Ivan Drago, his last opponent. After hanging up the gloves for good, he takes a protégé under his wing by the name of Tommy Gunn, a promising young heavyweight boxer. I have heard that this was a storyline that was undesired by the fans. But let us remember that the recent spin-off Creed series of films have more or less the same kind of narrative. Rocky is retired and trains Adonis Creed in order to guide him to a world title. Perhaps it was the timing then. Stallone was still young enough to put the gloves back on. But who was he really going to fight next? An alien? With Rocky’s new physical vulnerability, even something such as a street fight became a life or death situation for him.

I think that one of the things that Rocky V gets right is making Rocky go back to the beginning again. With the original director back at the helm, it seemed as if the crew wanted to go back to making a Rocky film that focused more on drama than on action. Alien 3 later did this same thing and, coincidentally, instantly became an instalment that fans did not take to. Was such a quick shift in tone between sequels one of the problems? Well, I think there could be something to that.

One of the earlier script drafts had Rocky dying in a pregnant Adrian’s arms. The couple were expecting a daughter, but even though Rocky still defeated Gunn, the injuries he sustained were too much for his battle damaged body to handle. Whether it was the studio’s decision to not go with that ending, I do not know. But that is a possibility. In any case, from an artistic perspective that would have been the right ending to go with. But of course, the potential to make more money is always at the forefront of the minds of executives.

Avildsen sensibly shifted attention back to the dynamic between Rocky and Adrian. And even the relationship between Rocky and his son, Robert. Gone was a lot of the action that recent sequels bought, swapped for an enticing and at times emotional struggle due to the differences between what Rocky wanted in life and what his family did. Eventually, Rocky sees the errors of his ways, but not before almost losing his family. Basically, this time Rocky’s fight was somewhat different. This time, he was fighting to keep those that he loved and cherished the most.

What was also interesting was that Tommy Gunn, played by former champion boxer Tommy Morrison, was also made not to be a total villain. He wasn’t cool like Clubber Lang and the robotic Ivan Drago. He had flaws and was a little naïve about the way the boxing business was ran. Deep down the movie made you see that he was a guy that just had a lot of desire to be the best, but his naivety was used against him by those in power.

Don’t get me wrong. Rocky V does have a lot of things going against it. But it also did some things right that it does not receive merit for. Had it come after the second Rocky entry I think there is a chance that it would have been better received given how more in line it would have been in terms of style and dramatic tone.