Rocky V, 1990 (Sylvester Stallone) MGM/UA

“Get up you son of a bitch! ‘Cause Mickey loves you!”

Rocky V breaks my heart, but things have to change. For the first time since the first Rocky, we have a movie with real drama and conflict. Rocky is dealt one setback after another. He may have won his match with Drago, but he loses so much more. After the fight, he tells Adrian he can’t stop shaking, and then he starts talking to Mickey. It turns out he has irreversible brain damage. It could’ve been Drago’s brutal barrage of punches, or it could be the fact that he’s a boxer and it goes with the territory. Either way, he has to stop boxing, but it couldn’t have come at a worse time because Paulie (remember Paulie?) has lost the family fortune.

He gave “power of attorney” (I don’t know how your shifty brother-in-law has that kind of authority over finances) to an unscrupulous accountant who ripped them off with bad real estate deals. This is the beginning and end of every rags-to-riches story (except for The Jerk). Kids? If you strike it rich, don’t invest in real estate. His assets are seized and he is forced to take his family back to South Philly where he re-opens Mickey’s gym (after experiencing ghostly flashbacks of Mickey). He takes a shine to journeyman boxer Tommy Gunn (real life boxer Tommy Morrison) and starts training him before Gunn falls under the sway of Don King-like svengali George Washington Duke.

Rocky treats Tommy like his surrogate son, which does no favors for his very real relationship with his own son (played by Stallone’s real-life son, Sage Stallone). Sage reminds me of Ralph Macchio, and his storyline is similar to The Karate Kid. He has bullies who beat him up. I don’t know why you’d ever bully the son of Rocky Balboa, but let’s go with it. He learns to defend himself, but he becomes a bully himself. Rocky V plays out in similar fashion to the life and career of Mike Tyson. Tyson, orphaned at the age of 16, had been shepherded by good-hearted Brooklyn trainer, Cus D’Amato before signing with Don King.

In due course, Tommy becomes an obnoxious monster who gets into rounds with Rocky and we do get a fight, but it isn’t in a ring. It’s a street fight with fists and an angry crowd, which is probably a bit more dangerous to Rocky’s brain than the comparative safety of a referee and padded boxing gloves. Rocky wins the fight, yet I couldn’t help but worry about Rocky’s brain. Due to skyrocketing inflation at the time, this simple kitchen sink drama had a production budget of $42 million. John G. Avildsen, fresh from directing The Karate Kid, Part III, was brought back presumably for his ability to handle the drama of Rocky’s situation, and to provide closure to the character as Rocky V was assumed at the time to be the franchise’s final film.

It didn’t turn out that way (though the movie flopped in comparison with previous movies) as Stallone’s Rocky Balboa would be released in 2006. I quite enjoy Rocky V. I had friends who loved this movie, mainly for the street fight. As a matter of fact, I would put it at number two on my list (just under the first Rocky) of favorite Rocky movies as an adult. As a kid, I enjoyed the montage, the constant boxing scenes, and the victories. Stallone, like Harrison Ford, was a franchise king with the Rocky and Rambo movies, as well as The Expendables.

For more Franchise Rewind, visit Second Union!

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