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.
Who’d have thought Bill Conti’s immaculate soundtrack could sound so drained of life? Rocky III is the sequel that never needed to be, following on from Rocky II, a sequel that wasn’t particularly necessary either. One of the many differences between the two is that Rocky II had heart. It showed Sylvester Stallone could star and direct with competence. Inevitably, then, he would wish to strike the same notes of success again. We cannot fault him for trying, but where can Rocky Balboa (Stallone) go if he has already reached the top of the food chain? That is where we left him, and from here on in, the staple style of the franchise was lost. No longer was the series an underdog punching up, it was the famed fighter hitting down.
Surprisingly, the arc of the Rocky franchise began as the underdog losing to the better-prepared man, and soon became the rise and rise of a fighter who would eventually own a robot butler. That is the magic we love to see at the cinema. “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” is what we heard. Those immortal words closed off a story that should live on as a dependable, sentimental statement. We may lose the battle but the experience will see us out as a winner. That is not enough for the series, hence the existence of Rocky II. It is the do-over that wasn’t necessary but still provides a collation of excellent sequences, a stripping back of its antagonist, and another outing for Sylvester Stallone to prove himself an immortal champion of sporting fiction.
Before the horrid pangs of castrated computer graphics and slick, charmless colour palettes made the rounds, tight spandex and a tongue-in-cheek whimsy dominated. The turn of the century left something to be desired, but make no mistake, newer issues merely replaced the problems of yesterday. When removing the comedy from Batman, a difficult challenge indeed, it is hard to display much passion or interest for what remains. One of the sole draws of Adam West’s era as the loose-fitting trailblazer was the fun he brought to the screen. Even a staunch comic book avoider would have to admit the positives presented by this era. But saturation back then was an issue for the birth of colour television, rather than of market fears, and Batman’s leading draw is the unique chance to see an episodic comic book show on the big screen.
For the four of us out there that have recently watched Grudge Match, it’s surprising to think that the two leading lads from that 2013 disaster did, at one time, have much more respect for the niche genre that is drama films with boxing-centric stories. Raging Bull and Rocky are decades gone from these stoic old creatures, but it’s nice to reflect on a period where a sports drama wasn’t your usual soppy, oversaturated camera angles and message of wholesome, yet agonisingly poor-quality teamwork building exercises. The John G. Avildsen classic, Rocky, is a film worthy of revisiting, not only to experience perhaps the best sports drama of all time, but to see how gracefully the career of Sylvester Stallone began.