When problems are unearthed, it is difficult to then return to the roots. They are no longer deep underground; they have been hacked to death by previous attempts at solving the issues and problems surrounding a bad project. Such is the life of Rocky V, a film which hopes the inclusion of director John G. Avildsen will fix the floundering style of the series. If anything, he makes it worse. He is stuffing things back into places they once belonged, but can no longer fit. It is the growth of the series and the direction Sylvester Stallone took it in during Rocky III and Rocky IV that leaves us with the ultimate battle. Not of a man fighting for his life, but of a performer fighting for relevancy.
How are we expected to return to an underdog tale when we have seen a man win it all? A crooked accountant here and a hit to the head there, and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) finds himself back at the bottom rung of the ladder. Retired, and picking himself up where the roots left him last, Rocky V sees him take on a protégé. It doesn’t do him much good. We are stuck listening to the moanings of a young man yet again, but at least Rocky had some fight within him. One of the many key components to the character Stallone brings to life is that, for all his misgivings, he is a likeable man trying to make his way through the boxing ranks. Tommy “Machine” Gun (Tommy Morrison) is lazy, boring and unlikeable from his first scenes within this fifth instalment.
Every character is now comfortable in their role. There is no need for changes to their styling, as that would just alienate the massive fanbase returning to this series for the fifth time. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Rocky V is barely working but has yet to break down completely. It comes close, Sage Stallone and Morrison’s appearances do not help. While the franchise excels often on the introduction of new and delightful characters, none of the newcomers have the propensity or value that Talia Shire or Burt Young can bring to the series. Even Burgess Meredith returns, ironically his performance as a ghostly vision has the most life within Rocky V.
Rocky V fails to catch up to the faster pace of the 1990s, and while five rounds is an admirable effort, it should have gone down in the second. Everything after Rocky II feels gimmicky, and bringing Avildsen back feels like the cast and crew are aware that this is, likely, a make-or-break situation. Too bad it broke. No fault but their own. They took a concept that should not have survived far beyond the call of duty, and in return were gunned down by their inability to craft new characters in the same mould as the Oscar-winning original. It is not a hard achievement, for a mop with a bucket taped to it or a punching bag with a smiley-face sticker on it would have exuded more confidence, likeability and tact than the feckless pairing of Balboa and Gun.