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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Franchise Fallout: Rocky - the final three rounds

Rocky IV was made in the same year as Rambo First Blood Part II - Stallone really socked it to the commies that year. Financially this fourth entry in the Rocky series was a hit, taking in $300 million worldwide it remains the biggest earner of the entire series and was the third biggest money maker of its year, coming in behind Rambo: First Blood Part II - For those wondering it was Back to the Future which sat at the top spot.

In my opinion Rocky IV  is the worse of the entire franchise (Yes even worse than the universally hated Rocky V, but we'll come to that in a moment) and is perhaps the Rocky movie I've watched the least. In fact when I spun the disc for this article I think this would maybe only be the second time I've seen it. I remember hating it when I first saw it all those years ago, and I don't feel that much better about it now. I didn't hate it this time but it still feels like a weak by the numbers movie - The problem with it is that there's no scale to it and it feels to me like a TV movie.

The plot sees Russia entering professional boxing and the Russkies want to put their man, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) against the Italian Stallion, but Rocky's retired and is not interested in fighting again.Rocky's new best friend, Apollo Creed decides to fight the Russian man-mountain in an exhibition fight.He does so and is killed which prompts Rocky to agree to a fight to avenge his friend. This fight  takes place in communist Russia. We get the usual training montage before the big fight with one neat touch which is Rocky running up a Russian mountain in place of the museum steps in Philadelphia.

The film is stupid - I'm now sure if this is set in an alternative 1985 or 2255 - Paulie is given a fully functional robot as a birthday present - he promptly re programs this to talk in a seductive female voice and then we get some funny, but creepy scenes of Paulie and his sex-bot. It all jars and another problem is that the characters of both Rocky and Adrian are out of sync with previous movies.0K they've got wealth and fame but Rocky seems to be in danger of becoming some sort of intellectual, and Adrian comes across as a more likeable Victoria Beckham.

That's not to say the movie isn't enjoyable in a dumb sort of way, but even the fighting, usually the strong point, left me cold. And the least said about Rocky's cheesy speech at the end the better.

Rocky V came in 1990 and although this movie is universally hated by Rocky fans, I think it is far better than its reputation suggests.I would argue that it is a better movie than the previous entry in any case, and if it had stuck to its original ending (I'll tell you about that later) then it may have been the best entry since the second movie. Even Sylvester Stallone hates this entry and said publicly that the reason he would go onto make Rocky Balboa was because he didn't want to end with V, which he considers a bad Rocky movie. He also said in an interview with the Sun newspaper in 2010 that he only made the film out of greed, and that  Rocky Balboa  (2006) was made to wipe out the bad taste left by V

The film took a risk and messed with the formula and Rocky doesn't even step into the ring in this movie, but instead trains upcoming boxer Tommy Gunn, played by Tommy Morrison a real life actual professional boxer who happens to be a  great nephew of the legendary John Wayne. Rocky takes Tommy to the stage where he can get a shot at the title, but Tommy is tired of being called Rocky's boy in the press and he jumps ship opting to go with a Don King-esque fight promoter instead. The movie ends with Rocky kicking the shit out of Tommy in a no holds barred street fight.

The problem with the movie is that there is a story arc of Rocky having brain damage and this was to culminate in the death of Rocky at the end of the movie. The death scene, Rocky passes away in the arms of Adrian was never filmed because at the last minute, Stallone decided to alter the end and have Rocky survive. This means that the brain damage arc is never fully realised and left hanging. The end doesn't fit with the tone of the movie, but I still think that overall the movie fits in better with the Rocky universe than IV did. For thing Rocky's character is far more consistent to the character who was punchy even way back in the first movie, and for another making Rocky poor again was a nice touch - this is the Rocky we like best.

Stallone defended the new ending by saying that the change was nothing to do with studio interference but that the Rocky series was about perseverance and redemption, and having him die in a street brawl would be against the roots of the series. Another problem with this movie is that the time line of the Rocky movies is all over the place and never is it more obvious that here - the film supposedly opens with Rocky returning from Russia but it seems he may have been there for years since his son, now played by his real life son the late Sage Stallone, seems to have aged at least five years since the last movie.

Anticipated to be one of the big hits of the 1990 holiday season, Rocky V finished second in its opening weekend to Home Alone and never recovered.The film earned $14 million on its opening weekend and $40 million in total US box-office sales, about one-third of its predecessor's take. Rocky V  however made almost twice as much overseas and thereby a total of $119.9 million worldwide.

Rocky Balboa came in 2006 - Stallone was now approaching pensionable age and the first Rocky had hit the screens back in 1976. The general opinion seemed to be that this movie was going to be a joke and that Stallone was desperate after a string of flop movies. In the end the movie ended up being a powerhouse that brought no shame to the franchise.

We open up with a middle aged Rocky waking up and feeding his turtles Cuff and Link who are now huge and may have been using the same steroids as Ivan Drago. We discover that Rocky's beloved Adrian is dead and that Rocky is left alone with the creepy Paulie - he's estranged from his son and Paulie's sexbot's nowhere to be seen - likely, repossessed by the baliffs in the last movie. Rocky and Paulie - these two were made for each other.

Now how to get Rocky back in the ring - the storyline Stallone came up with was ingenious. A sports network runs a computer simulation of a fight between current champ, Mason Dixon and ex champ, Rocky Balboa. And yep, you've guessed it, Rocky wins. Dixon goes wild and eventually Rocky gets permission to fight again and the two step into the ring for real.

Much was made of the fact that Rocky had brain damage in the previous movie and was advised never to fight again, so it seemed that the fact that Rocky got a licence to fight in this movie was stupid, but Stallone defended this by saying,

"When Rocky was diagnosed with brain damage, it must be noted that many athletes have a form of brain damage including football players, soccer players, and other individuals in contact sports such as rugby, etc. Rocky never went for a second opinion and yielded to his wife's wishes to stop. So with the advent of new research techniques into brain damage, Rocky was found to be normal among fighters, and he was suffering the results of a severe concussion. By today's standards Rocky Balboa would be given a clean bill of health for fighters."

In the end the film was a huge hit, and praised by both critics and fans and alike. It ticked all the right boxes and Stallone gave another pitch perfect perfomance that was true to the roots of the character. It ended up the sixth highest grossing boxing film of all time, and yes was a fitting way to end the series. It's certainly the most consistently good since the second movie and proves that both Rocky and Stallone were the ultimate comeback kings.

The big fight in this one is also surprisignly realistic and Rocky doesn't come across as a supermen, but a severely outmatched fighter who is just to old to be fighting such a young man. Rocky however has heart and makes a remarkable comeback and almost batters the champ. In the end Rocky loses to a split decison,  but it doesn't matter, because he remains the people's champ.A little trivia here - the fight was filmed in a real boxing arena in between two pay per view bouts and the fans chanting Rocky, at the end was not scripted and was the actual audience who had come thinking they would see a pay per view fight -now that's what I call a bonus.

It was also a good step to take the franchise back to its roots - Paulie's back at the meat factory, Rocky's hanging with that young girl Marie from the first movie and thankfully Stallone had enough sense to keep the onescreen relationship plutonic . 'My wife's gone but she's not gone,' Rocky tells Marie early in the film just to clarify that there will be no romance here. A wise move - Paulie and his sexbot was bad enough but Rocky and this girl doing the nasty would have been a step too far. In the end their relationship is well developed and rings totally true.

The best thing about this movie is that Rocky is the same character we fell in love with all those years ago, and Stallone is at his best in his beloved role.

To sum up the entire franchise I tend to think  this:

 1, 2 and 6 are excellent movies,and  3  and 5 are entertaining but not up there with the best, while 4, for me, stands out as the worse of the batch. I wonder how many Archive readers agree with that. In the bigger scheme of things the entire franchise must be viewed as a true cinema classic.It's entered pop culture and even now any boxing movie is inevitably compared to the Rocky films. It's not often that the word genius is used alongside Sylvester Stallone but his Rocky saga truly is a work of genius.

From time to time there is still talk of another Rocky movie but that may be a step too far - it's difficult to see where the series could go - into outer space perhaps!

Rocky fights the Aliens sounds like a big summer movie.

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