With Creed set to release tomorrow, I felt it was time to revisit the very first time Rocky took up the mantle as a trainer. And while Rocky V has held the reputation as one of the worst Rocky films for years, I have come to appreciate it more after viewing it recently. There are amazing parallels between both Rocky V and Creed. And unlike the positive relationship Adonis will share with Rocky in Creed, Rocky V is more of a cautionary tale of how attempting to live your hopes and dreams through another person can leave you extremely disappointed.
Rocky V picks up in Russia immediately after The Italian Stallion had suffered the worse beating of his career. He defeated Ivan Drago, the man that killed Apollo Creed in the ring, but at the cost of his own health. Rocky suffers brain damage (Probably misdiagnosed since he was allowed to fight again in Rocky Balboa) and has to retire immediately. But Drago wasn’t the only one throwing a few heavy blows at Rocky. Life hit him with a haymaker after he finds out he’s far better in the ring than he is at managing money. Paulie, the worst person in the world to take any sort of financial advice from, talks Rocky in to signing power of attorney over to their accountant. With his entire career’s earnings gone, and six years worth of unpaid property taxes, Rocky is forced to move back to his old neighborhood with his family.
Mickey left Rocky his gym in his will. So Rocky reopens it in order to make a living. But the urge to fight is still in him. It’s all he knows. So with a promoter by the name of George Washington Duke continuously harassing him to step back in the ring for a huge payday, Rocky struggles with his forced retirement. But everything changes when he meets a young fighter that reminds him of himself. Someone with the raw punching power like he once possessed, but without the technique and knowledge Mickey blessed him with. So after being very reluctant at first, Rocky decides to take on Tommy (If you think my name can’t get any cooler, I’ll add “The Machine” in the middle of it) Gunn as his pupil.
Aside from growing up with an extremely abusive father, Tommy Gunn was just like Rocky when he was younger. So Rocky embraced his new role as Mickey to Tommy and dedicated all of his time to making him a better fighter. After completely ignoring his soft son and leaving him to fend off public school bullies on his own in the tough streets of Philadelphia, Rocky relives his dreams through Tommy and form a close father and son bond with him. That was until Duke got his hands on Tommy.
George Washington Duke seduced Tommy with fast money, and even faster women. Tommy starts to resent the media for labeling him as “Rocky’s boy”, and turns against Rocky feeling that he’s holding him back. Rocky realizes how much of an awful father he’s been lately, and makes amends with his son. Tommy wins the world heavyweight title and thanks Duke for being in his corner. Extremely disappointed, Rocky finally understands that Tommy is not like him. And accepts the fact that he is not like Mickey.
After the press berates Tommy for simply being a knock off of Rocky and not a legitimate champion, Duke talks Tommy in to confronting Rocky in a bar in order to challenge him to a boxing match. After Rocky refuses a few times, Tommy attacks Paulie, and the Italian Stallion takes Tommy outside for an old fashion street fight. The movie ends with Rocky knocking Tommy out and punching Duke in the stomach. Tommy is arrested and probably charged with assault. Rocky runs up the stairs with his son and they both go in to the museum together to hang out. Credits and Rocky series maontage.
The reason behind the dislike for Rocky V originally was for it being the last film. An entire franchise about boxing ended on a weak note. However, the film has become just another sequel instead of the final chapter. And now that Creed is set to both continue and spin off the Rocky franchise with a new protagonist, Rocky V has become more relevant than ever to the Rocky storyline. With the pressure of being a franchise closer removed, the film can finally be viewed for what it really was.
Rocky V was more about the state of boxing at that time than any other Rocky film before it. Set in 1990, it showed the difference between when boxers did it for the love of the sport compared to how boxing at the time was used solely for big pay days. Don King, the promoter George Washington Duke was based upon, was highly responsible for the image boxing had in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The film did a great job of criticizing the current state of boxing at the time.
Another theme the movie touched on perfectly was the idea of what happens next when an athlete is no longer able to compete. Boxing was all Rocky knew, and it was taken away from him. There is a constant undertone of his frustration over his retirement throughout the film. To him, Tommy is basically his best shot at regaining that feeling he’s lost. And that makes Rocky’s search for a way to recapture it so heartbreaking.
In the end, Rocky V was not a great ending to the Rocky franchise. However, it’s an underrated movie when viewed without the pressures of it being the closing act. And with the release of Creed, it’s about time Rocky was given a chance to properly embrace his role as a mentor. Adonis Creed is not Tommy Gunn. His drive as a boxer is completely different. And despite trying to live through Tommy, Rocky has had a chance to finally leave the world of professional boxing on his terms. He left it all in the ring in his official ending to the Rocky franchise. So now it’s all about passing his knowledge down to Adonis. So let’s enjoy Creed for the movie it is, but let’s also remember Rocky V for the movie it was. Because they both compliment each other, and show exactly how certain circumstances can lead to entirely different results depending on specific indivduals.