Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Thursday, August 18, 2016


The “Rocky” series was hugely financially successful and beloved in the seventies and eighties. This, however, didn’t stop people from making fun of the increasingly unlikely story turns the series would take throughout the Reagan administration. Over the course of four films, Rocky Balboa went from a Philly mook who got a lucky chance to the man who defeated Communism with the power of his punching. Maybe Stallone was aware of the affect the series’ changes had on the reputation of the films and himself. For “Rocky V,” he endeavored to take his most iconic character back to his roots. John G. Avildsen returned to direct. The script, meanwhile, hearkened back to the original film’s character driven tone. “Rocky V” was meant to be the grand finale for the ever-popular series. Instead, it would become the lowest grossing entry in the franchise.

Following his punishing bout with Ivan Drago, Rocky Balboa begins to feel the toll the years of pugilism has taken on his body. Repeated blows to the head has caused him to develop brain damage, effectively ending his boxing career. Paulie’s mismanaging of the family’s finances, meanwhile, has caused Rocky and Adrian to loose their fortune. Soon, the family is back on the streets of Philadelphia. Rocky’s son, Robert Jr., takes this the hardest. Rocky resists offers to re-enter the ring and instead begins to mentor Tommy Gunn, a promising young boxer. Tommy, however, is not as loyal as Balboa is.

It’s clear that Stallone’s goal with “Rocky V” was to bring Balboa back down to Earth. Within the opening half-hour, he’s retired from boxing and has lost his millions. He dons his black hat and jacket again, the story returning to Philadelphia. This is a smart idea on paper, especially after the excesses of parts three and four. But the execution leaves something to be desired. To see Rocky go from convincing all of the Soviet Union to cheer for him to stammering his ways through the streets of Philly makes for a disconcerting contrast. Moreover, Stallone’s script reveals a previously unseen mawkish side. In flashbacks, we see Mickey detail his love for Rocky and give his student a pendent of a boxing glove. The film is primarily concerned with the relationships between the characters, fathers and sons, but handles this in an awkward, heavy-handed fashion. It seems, after a decade of fanciful overindulgence, Sly was unable to recapture the naturalistic elements of the original.

Removing Rocky from the boxing ring removes the conflict from the story. Instead, the protagonist shifts into a passive role. The actual boxing is done by Tommy Gunn, the young boxer Rocky mentors. The obvious plan was to shift Rocky into a Mickey-style role. This doesn’t work for a few reasons. Gunn is not a compelling character. Driven by anger based in an abusive childhood, Gunn is all bluster and little heart. Tommy Morrison’s acting as Gunn vacillates between ridiculously over-the-top and inexpressibly flat. The story bends in odd directions to justify Gunn’s role. Rocky inviting the kid so totally into his life, even into his home, seems unlikely. These factors cause Gunn’s eventual betrayal of Rocky to lack impact. He trades Rocky’s heart-and-soul approach for the money grubbing ways of George Washington Duke, a fight promoter obviously inspired by Don King. Gunn seemingly goes from being Balboa’s trusted student to his sworn enemy over the course of a montage.

That Rocky has a somewhat fatherly relationship with Tommy Gunn is intentional. This is meant to mirror the other main plot thread of the film: Rocky’s relationship with his actual son. Rocky Jr. has seemingly aged five years in-between movies, so the part could be played by Stallone’s own son, Sage. Sadly, Sage is nearly as awkward a performer as Tommy Morrison. His take on the character is petulant and whining. The audience is utterly apathetic to Junior’s adventures at school, which has him standing up to bullies and befriending a girl. (This includes getting a really embarrassing earring.) Rocky ignoring his son during a time of crisis, to support the brutish Gunn, seems out of character for the loving, family-first Balboa. The two eventually make up mid-way through the film, the script awkwardly disposing of the plot point early on.

In the years between winning a Best Director Oscar for “Rocky” and making “Rocky V,” John G. Avildsen had mostly occupied himself with the “Karate Kid” trilogy and flicks like “Lean on Me.” The documentary edge Avildsen brought to the original is almost entirely absent from this fourth sequel. You get occasional peaks of it, such as sweeping shots devoted to the streets of Philadelphia, set to then-modern rap music. Usually, Avildsen deploys a heavy handed style, making extended use of montages and flashing imagery. This is most apparent during the climax, a street fight between Rocky and Tommy Gunn. While down on the ground, Rocky sees images of Mickey cheering him on. It’s a technique that borders on obnoxious, being distracting at the very least.

“Rocky V’s” heart was in the right place. It probably would’ve been easy for Stallone to continue the crowd-pleasing formula utilized in the middle sequels. (Though Rocky was running out of mentors to avenge…) Instead, the star and filmmaker decided to get back to the franchise’s roots. Maybe Stallone was hungry for critical respect, after spending most of the eighties making glorious, populist trash. However, both Stallone and Avildsen lack the graceful touch that made the original a classic. The film was laughed at by critics and attracted a smaller audience. Even Sly later expressed disappointment in it. Originally meant to conclude with Rocky’s death, everyone got cold feet at the last minute. Can you imagine the punching bag of the franchise being the definitive end of Rocky’s story? That would’ve made “Rocky V” an even bigger bummer. [5/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Washed-Up Athlete]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

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