Watching the Rocky films as an adult gave me an entirely different perspective. As a kid, the movies that I liked the most are unquestionably the ones that I like the least. In this brief review, I will explain the things I loved about the movies back then and what makes me dislike them now.
Here’s a quick refresher in case you’ve forgotten, or never seen, the Rocky series:
Rocky – He goes the distance with Apollo and falls in love with Adrian
Rocky II – He wins the Championship from Apollo
Rocky III – Mickey dies and Rocky loses to Clubber Lang. With Apollo in his corner, Rocky regains the belt.
Rocky IV – James Brown shows up and sings for no reason. Rocky buys Paulie a robot for his birthday. Drago kills Apollo. Rocky trains. Drago trains and injects steroids. Rocky trains some more. Rocky defeats Drago in Russia.
Rocky V – Rocky trains a homeless bum (Tommy Morrison) and kicks his son out of his house so the homeless guy can have his room. The homeless guy dumps Rocky for an evil promoter, George Washington Duke, who says, “Only in America” a lot (yeah, fake Don King). Tommy wins the belt and thanks Duke. The press tells Tommy that he’s no Rocky, so they have a street fight. Rocky beats the shit out of Tommy and then KOs Duke in spite of his warning, “Touch me, and I’ll sue.” Rocky responds after punching his lights out with, “Sue me for what?”
Rocky Balboa – Adrian’s dead. Rocky’s a pathetic old man. As Paulie says, “you’re living backwards, Rocko!” Ultimately, HGH and anabolic steroids allow a 60-year-old Rocky to go the distance with Antonio Tarver, the World Champion.
The original Rocky is unbelievably great. It’s the best one without argument. Sylvester Stallone’s screenplay is phenomenal, as is the acting, the music, the locations, et al. When I was young, this movie was never of any real interest to me. It has the least amount of boxing in it of any Rocky film. Ironically, that’s a huge plus for me now, but as a kid that was what I wanted most. The scenes detailing the development of Rocky’s relationship with Adrian are much more enjoyable as a 29-year-old than they were when I was a 9-year-old. The actual story is just so great. Viki King mentions in “How to Write a Movie in 21 Days” about how the hero’s goal will change, and she uses Rocky deciding that he has to go the distance with Apollo as a prime example.
Rocky IV & V are the films that I loved as a kid. Sadly, they’re both painful to watch today.
The log line for Part IV should have been, “You’ve seen great Rocky films, now watch a bunch of music videos with extra training footage and 70% less dialogue.” There is more “fighting” in this movie than any other Rocky. Apollo dies. Rocky drives late at night while we hear Robert Tepper sing “No Easy Way Out.” Rocky trains. Rocky trains some more. Drago says about five words. Can you believe I loved the Drago character as a kid? He’s like Darth Maul. He’s the cool sequel (or prequel) character that says nothing, yet he is one of the more memorable film characters in spite of his short existence. Oh, and what’s with that robot? It’s so stupid. Rocky’s kid sucks shit too. The best part is when Apollo is at the table and the robot leaves the room, he’s like, “Uh, OK, anyway…” which is how I felt now. As a kid, I probably loved that stupid robot. Since I mentioned Darth Maul, let’s call the robot the Jar Jar Binks of the Rocky films.
In Part V, Eric Murphy gets his ass kicked by Sage Stallone. Nice! It’s funny, I liked it as a kid for the excessive boxing matches and montages (e.g. Tommy Gunn’s winning streak), but this one is really lousy. It’s watchable in the context of the series, but as a standalone film, Rocky V is a joke of a movie. Strangely, I enjoyed the “nostalgic” feeling of this move when I was a kid, but it’s truly faux-nostalgia. There’s legitimate nostalgia in Rocky Balboa, but this one is just kind of there. It’s the only one of the six movies that could be completely erased without anybody caring. Also, why does Rocky’s kid age like six years in a week? The best thing about this movie is the Elton John song at the end, which I subsequently downloaded and listened to 50 times.
Stallone has some great speeches, and my favorites are actually in the latest installment. I love when he is pleading his case to the commission to get reinstated and when he’s telling his son to take responsibility for his own life. These are both written and performed brilliantly. In my opinion, they’re so powerful that they can genuinely impact the viewer (in this case me) in their (my) own real life.
Burt Young is tremendous as Paulie. I had to check to make sure that he received an Oscar for his work in the original film, and he did. His character is so great, and he plays it perfectly.
Burgess Meredith didn’t win any awards for his portrayal of Mickey. However, these films wouldn’t be right with any other actor in this role. Rocky without Mickey would be like Daniel without Miyagi.
All the music is great except for the “jungle music” (as Paulie would call it) in Rocky V. Bill Conti’s orchestral score is epic and as recognizable as just about anyone ever produced. An honorable mention goes to Frank Stallone’s “Take You Back” song from the street corner that we hear at different times in the series. What a great song. Elton John’s song at the end of V is a hidden gem as well.
Rating the Rocky films
ROCKY II ***
ROCKY III ** 1/2
ROCKY IV *
ROCKY V 1/2 *
ROCKY VI ***