Quick Movie Review: Rocky V (1990)

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So apparently Rocky V is considered the worst in the franchise. I’m not sure why. To be honest, the things people say it does wrong Rocky films have been doing since the beginning. Like contrived plot points, or innocuous plot holes, or tragic things happening due to Rocky’s lack of self-awareness. Maybe it’s just that now people are finally noticing it. But truthfully, I enjoyed it because it’s NOT like all the others.

Released in 1990, it’s perhaps the smartest Rocky film up to this point. The depth has never been more nuanced than it is here. It’s deep without being corny. Deeper than the others because it doesn’t try too hard to be. It finally breaks away from the tired formula, so for once you’re not sure where the story’s going.

Amidst all the improvements, it still has the feel of a Rocky movie, doing well to go along with the trend of each film being a different phase in the boxer’s life. Immediately after the bout with Ivan Drago from the previous film, Rocky is suffering some noticeable brain damage. A Don King parody, promoter George Washington Duke, is trying to get him back into the ring for a title fight. But Rocky keeps deflecting, finally retiring from the sport.

A young, promising fighter, Tommy Gunn, approaches Rocky in hopes that the former boxer will coach him so he can get to the championship level. Tensions rise when Rocky’s own 14 year old son, Robert, is getting less and less attention from his father during a time when he should be retired and at home with his family. Robert feels like he’s being replaced by Tommy and what results is an actual realistic depiction of what would happen between father and son.

Something about this subplot hits home for any guy. Whether it’s happened to you or not, you truly feel for Robert. However, it’s not presented in a cliched fashion. It’s not as black and white as most movies would have made it be. Subtly, we also realize that his dad isn’t as bad as he could be, either.

This installment has a brilliant way of connecting everything inside of itself. Of the original 5 films, this one has, by far, the best script. The narrative, alone, is an obvious improvement from its two predecessors at least. Although it’s a little longer, it’s a lot more fluid in its storytelling.

Sylvester Stallone does his best job not overacting in the title role–something he tends to do intermittently throughout this series. He’s getting better.

Unlike the past films, the events in this one are a direct result of realistic situations Rocky has been put in. If anything, Rocky seems to have actual sincere motives this time. Ones that we can actually relate to or empathize with. For once, Rocky seems to have his back against the wall the way it should have felt–and wanted to be–in previous films. And no matter what your opinion is on these films up to this point, Rocky V is the perfect bookend to the original quintilogy.

Twizard Rating: 92

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Quick Movie Review: Rocky IV (1985)

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When a movie is 90 minutes long, you assume that it either has not much to cover or it’s perfectly precise with every detail. This is Rocky, so you can nix the latter.

The story for the 4th installment is stretched way too thin, which is probably why there are so many montages–even for a Rocky film. At one point there’s a 2 minute long flashback montage to the tune of some generic ’80s song. It’s supposed to be Rocky reminiscing on his life and career, but some of the things don’t even make sense why he would be reminiscing about them, given the context. It’s really just a bunch of unconnected and randomly selected scenes splunched together recapping the series thus far–much like a TV show does towards the end of its run as an homage to its fans. It’s weird and out of place.

Although, the first training montage is perhaps the best we’ve gotten in this series so far.

Before I go on, my summary is going to reveal a spoiler. Since it occurs within the first 30 minutes of the film and propels the entire story, I think it’s important to mention.

Soviet fighter, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), comes to America to take on American talent. His people claim he’s the next big thing and that he can take down any US boxer without much of a fight. His punch registers more than double the PSI of an average heavyweight fighter. Apollo Creed takes this taunting personally and feels it’s his duty to defend America’s honor by fighting Drago.

Creed hasn’t fought in 5 years and comes out of retirement way too quickly. He gets carried away, rushing into the match without really training much beforehand. So when Drago punches Apollo during the match, it lands so hard that it kills him.

A death that should have been emotional ends up feeling comical. Creed definitely doesn’t get the proper treatment.

So Rocky, now furious, decides to take matters in his own hands and avenge Creed’s death–which is apparently a more important issue to him than surviving to be with his wife and son. He goes to Russia to train so he can beat the apparently unbeatable Drago. It’s a suicide mission.

Besides the dialogue being cheesy and having one too many sappy speeches, the script makes some questionable choices. For instance, one of Drago’s few lines not only is unnecessary, but it ruins the moment of Apollo’s death. In regards to Creed getting knocked out, the Soviet says, “If he dies, he dies.” It’s absurd! I mean, Drago has barely said a word, why not keep it that way? If anything, it would have been better if we got a bit later on where Rocky tries to get an apology from Drago and he refuses. Then, maybe, would it have justified Rocky’s vendetta. Otherwise, his rage just feels forced and contrived.

Rocky IV is uneventful and unnecessary. It’s like Stallone just ran out of creativity. He just loves this formula that he’s discovered so much that he uses it once again here. But this time, it feels much more empty. You can’t help but feel like Creed’s death is only there to justify the existence of another movie. Because it’s the only important thing that happens in this installment.

The rare bright spot in this film is the break-out performance of Lundgren. He remains stoic as long as necessary, truly making the audience believe that he’s actually an evil Soviet fighter. But his villainy will be mostly in vain.

Paulie is also very important in this story. While he was sort of obnoxious in the previous couple of movies, his presence helps ground the story amidst the craziness of the 1980s. His salt-of-the-earth nature constantly reminds us of Rocky’s humble roots–and of this film series’ humble roots. This nuance was undoubtedly inadvertent, however important.

But it’s not even close to enough to save this film. Where Rocky III is ’80s in its over-the-top silliness, bordering on fun, Rocky IV is ’80s in its attempt to solve the Regan-era Cold War politics–which it doesn’t.

At least the 3rd film redeems itself in the 2nd half. This one spirals into near-nothingness. It’s hardly any fun. It’s a movie that has contrived an event to kill off a character so that the other character can avenge the death of his friend, which didn’t even need to happen in the first place.

As much as I wasn’t crazy about Rocky III, I could watch it again. It’s entertaining. But with this one, I sat anxious waiting for it to end.

Twizard Rating: 53

Quick Movie Review: Rocky III (1982)

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We’re officially into the ’80s now. And it feels like it. Things are a lot more campy. Mr. T is involved and everything he says is asinine. The film starts off with Rocky fighting a professional wrestler played by Hulk Hogan. It’s ridiculous, but so is the movie at this point.

Rocky Balboa is now America’s sweetheart. He appears on TV shows, he lives in a mansion, and his friends and family seem to be getting fed up with it all. I can see why.

Rocky has become unrealistically complacent. He is challenged by a boxer on-the-rise, Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T. Much to his trainer’s dismay, Rocky hosts a public training session filled with games, t-shirt booths, and an Italian band. And it’s all intercut with Mr. T’s serious workout regimen. I think the audience gets the point. He’s posing for pictures and kissing girls on the cheek while he’s working out. It’s silly. I get that his character is supposed to be more cocky now, but even this is obviously not okay. Over-the-top scenarios in order to drive home a point will always be too on-the-nose.

But then you realize that Rocky’s never really had it all that rough in the first place. Sure, he lived in a dump, but his career was essentially handed to him. So the spoiled and entitled mindset kinda makes sense.

Paulie has become obnoxious. Rocky flies to LA with Creed to train, and Paulie is unhappy being there. But I’m not even sure why he needs to be there in the first place. They decide that his character should be contrarian about it all, so every chance they get they make him say something negative. It’s annoying and he’s whiney. Stallone’s got this thing for stream-of-consciousness dialogue and characters saying what they feel in order to prove a point that the audience already knows, but sometimes it’s too much.

The first act or so takes awhile to get anywhere, but the second half is actually quite good. It gets comfortable in the formula it’s derived for itself. The formula that gives these movies such great finales.

I can see how this installment could be somewhat of a fan favorite. It’s got character and it’s fairly humorous in one of those you-don’t-notice-what’s-funny-until-you’ve-watched-it-twenty-times kind of way. It’s not as good as its predecessor, but I’d probably rather watch this comedy act than the first film’s self-aggrandizement any day.

Twizard Rating: 76

Quick Movie Review: Rocky II (1979)

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I didn’t hide the fact that I was a bit disappointed with the first Rocky film. It won Best Picture, but I wasn’t terribly impressed. I wanted goosebumps, but didn’t really get any as the film climaxed. So needless to say, I was far from thrilled about facing SIX MORE installments of this thing. But I figured, datedness–which plagued the introductory chapter so much–will eventually stop being a factor as the movies become newer.

And rightly so, Rocky II is better than Rocky I. There’s conflict. There’s struggle. There’s adversity. And everything that happens–every plot point–is well-deserved this time.

However, Rocky II isn’t a perfect movie by any means. Much of the first act is disjointed, but sets up everything that follows well. Picking up right where we leave off in the first film, Rocky is fresh off his fight with Apollo Creed. And although Apollo technically won by decision, the champ is facing scrutiny from the public saying the fight was rigged or that he shouldn’t have won.

Rocky, on the other hand, has moved on. Or at least it seems that way. He and Adrian get married and start their lives together. But Creed is taunting Rocky to get back into the ring again for a rematch.

Not that Rocky wasn’t already an affable character, but here, we learn more about him, which makes him even more likable.

In this one, the themes are also much more interesting. Much of this film is about Rocky becoming famous and recognizable–automatically bringing more meaning to the first film–but then also shows how easily the public forgets about him and what he accomplished.

One of the great scenes is when he tries to read the lines for a commercial he’s doing, but can’t get any of them correct. Stallone just plays dumb so well.

Unlike the first, Rocky actually has his back up against the wall. He’s being laughed at by his peers, and his relationship with Adrian actually has some issues. It’s nowhere near as easy this time around for Rocky. And by now, we know the characters well enough to appreciate it all. After watching this one, I finally got goosebumps–along with a few tears.

Twizard Rating: 92

Quick Movie Review: Rocky (1976)

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What most people don’t realize is that Rocky isn’t so much of a boxing movie as it is a love story. Well, that’s what I got from it, anyway. The boxing is a big part of it, but we don’t even get to the real meat of that story until about an hour in. And without even realizing it, we’re getting a whole lot of character depth during the first half of the film.

Forget the creepy way that Rocky forces Adrian to give him that first kiss. The story as a whole is sweet. She’s a true diamond in the rough. It’s almost not even believable at first, but the two have so much chemistry that it works.

But like most of the movie, their relationship is without much conflict. Rocky doesn’t overcome any crazy obstacles. He’s a lazy boxer who hasn’t made anything of his life, and when some freak opportunity presents itself, he finally works hard and gets what he wants. There isn’t anything really standing in his way. Perhaps if they threw some conflict in there it may come off as contrived, but how it is now, it seems too easy. Maybe that’s the point. I don’t know.

Undefeated heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) needs a new opponent for the title fight after his current one drops out. But he wants this new competitor to be a no name amateur, so that the public will get into the underdog story.

And it’s a good underdog story at that. You root for Rocky undeniably. But there could just be a little more in terms of a struggle. The biggest risk he takes is handed to him. And what does he have to lose, anyway?

Much of the film is dated with the fake punches and the already antiquated dialogue. There are points where the patter is so rhythmic that it sounds like it’s from the ’40s or ’50s. It’s a slow moving film, and some scenes just drag on for way too long. It helps add to the character development, but it does a number on our attention span.

Then there’s predictability. The end result is telegraphed from a mile away. We can guess what’s going to happen for most of the film. And we are usually proven right–another side effect of there not being any unexpected drama.

Nowadays, we have a quixotical view of Rocky, the all-American hero. Even the Academy was lost in its gaze with this film winning Best Picture back in 1977. But sadly, it’s not as good as we want it to be. But that’s not to say it’s not good. It’s still a cool underdog story, albeit not paying off as well as its predictability wants it to. However, corniness aside, this film set the pace for countless stories that came after it. And most of all, it has a lot of heart. You can’t knock it for that.

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Cobra (1986)

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Lieutenant Cobretti will spitball well-scripted one liners, and he’ll even beat a sawed-off shotgun in a West Side Story rumble with just a 4 foot chain. He’s not afraid to shoot up dozens of bad guys without hesitation, but don’t ever expect him to take the clear shot when he’s one-on-one with their leader.

Sylvester Stallone plays Marion “Cobra” Cobretti, an elite mercenary for the Los Angeles Police Department. He then becomes invested in a string of murders around the area and tries to figure out who’s responsible.

It’s not fair to say that this is an unentertaining movie. It’s enjoyable and I laughed a few times, but many scenarios are too convenient for the progression of the story. Cobra’s colleagues have no reason not to believe his hunches. He’s obviously done his homework and has talked to one of the culprits.

And we know who the “inside man” is right away. There’s no mystery. We see that Cobra is right the whole time. We’re basically just anticipating the inevitable conclusion.

At the very least it gives you characters to like and root for. Some of the action is ridiculous, but some of it is decently creative. And it keeps the story moving quickly. However, it would probably serve better as an episode on a crime drama series.

Stallone and his secondary lead, Brigitte Neilsen, have great chemistry (they were married) and do a good job carrying this film. But it’s no First Blood.

Twizard Rating: 60