The latest and last chapter of the Balboa saga opens with the brutal pounding Rocky endured in ROCKY IV. Rocky returns home with black eyes and slurred speech to a slick, fast-talking promoter who tries to immediately set up Rocky’s next fight, but Rocky opts for retirement when it’s learned he has minor brain damage. The maneuverers of an unscrupulous accountant, however, leave Rocky financially strapped. Despite his physical complications, Rocky wants to fight again, but his wife, Adrian, pleads with him not to fight. “If you love somebody,” she says, “you live with them.”
So the estate is auctioned, and Rocky moves the family back to his South Philadelphia roots. Donning the clothes he wore as a bum in ROCKY I, Rocky visits the old neighborhood gym and has a flashback where he tearfully recalls an encounter with former manager, Mickey (who died in ROCKY III). Meanwhile, Rocky’s young son Robert is getting beat up and mugged at school. They do not have a good father/son relationship, but Rocky promises that he and Robert will be “the home team.”
Rocky is approached by a tough, new, raw talent named Tommy “the Machine” Gunn, whom he agrees to train. With Rocky as manager, Gunn puts together a string of victories and climbs to the top. Robert, though, becomes jealous of this new home team. Trying to win his dad’s approval, Robert at first resorts to using his fists to solve problems at school, then takes up smoking and sporting an earring before openly rejecting and defying his father.
The alliance between Gunn and Rocky is finally broken when Duke, the big-money fight promoter, lures Gunn away from Rocky for a title shot at the heavyweight crown. Rocky, afraid of losing Gunn, defers to Adrian’s counsel, “If there’s something you want to pass on, pass it on to your son.”
Gunn emerges as the new heavyweight champion and is then duped by Duke and the press into challenging Rocky for the crown. This is exactly what Rocky was trying to keep Gunn away from: the dirty part of boxing that is in it for the big money only. When Gunn refuses to listen and knocks down an bystander, Rocky motions outside and says, “My ring is in the street.”
Although the Rocky series has threatened to go on until the boxer is in his eighties and still winning bouts in a special division for seniors, it nonetheless has stumbled upon the essential formula for good drama, paraphrased here by William Faulkner when he wrote, “An appealing protagonist… struggles against overwhelming odds… in search of a worthwhile goal.”
To its credit, ROCKY V shows that “a servant is not above his master” (John 13:16), and that father/son relationships must be nurtured. There’s also an expose of the seamy, underside of boxing that’s driven by the lust for money. The damage that boxing does to the brain is also shown, as Rocky’s speech throughout the entire picture is slurred.
Yet, ROCKY V leaves some issues unresolved. For instance, even though it’s stated by the Balboas that young Robert is to use his mind and not his fists to solve his problems, his violence is never reproved, or addressed when he does. Also, what about Rocky’s commitment not to fight that he makes to Adrian out of love for her?
The script has other problems as well. Much of the dialogue is poor and lacks the depth of insight into Rocky’s character that moved the previous episodes. There seems to be just shouting this time. Particularly annoying is how Adrian, who was close to being a catatonic when the first movie was made, suddenly has appeared as an intellectual. This was perplexing when we remember her task in all these films is simply to object to Rocky’s fighting.
In the last ROCKY, it was advisable to keep smaller children away, as there was more blood shed than the average Red Cross plasma drive. Those final-round fight sequences are reprised in ROCKY V, when street blows suffered at the hands of Gunn trigger a flood of images which send Rocky into an explosive rage. Viewers should also know that there is an instance of a brief female nude study (drawn), some children smoke pot, a few sexual innuendoes, mild alcohol abuse, and about 13 or 14 occurrences of obscenity.
Violence, 13 obscenities and 1 profanity, alcohol abuse, substance abuse by children, brief female nude study (drawn), and a few sexual innuendoes.