Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Rocky V Wasn't That Great

I've always liked the first four films in the series, and at the end of the day, I think the fifth one is pretty good. I haven't seen the sixth one, but that's pretty well irrelevant. Here's my take on Rocky V.

Before he is a boxer, a husband, or a father, Rocky Balboa is a hero. This is hero image is presented in the first four films. It's formulaic, but people rather like it: Rocky wants to vanquish the Dark Lord (or his boxing opponent) to protect his family from the evil air (or poverty) that will befall them if he fails. However, Rocky knows that he's not strong enough to complete this quest alone. To succeed, he will need council from an Old Man. The first Old Man is Micky, the second Old Man is Apollo, and the third Old Man is Apollo's manager. With the great wisdom he receives from Old Man, Rocky successfully defeats the Dark Lord and light is restored to his financial status.

It's a timeless tale, and it's one that's particularly special to us humans. You could replace Rocky with Hercules, Bran, Cuchulainn, Perseus, Link, or whatever hero you like. However, Rocky V is a slight departure from the traditional Hero's narrative. Instead of an epic quest for justice, we get a sort of Hero's Drama. You can find parallel stories about most heroes. The film portrays Rocky in a transition stage. He is becoming less and less of a Hero, and becoming more and more like Old Man.

Since Rocky is now basically Old Man, it's only a matter of time before another aspiring Hero approaches him. Tommy Gunn is that aspirant. Old Man Rocky of course obliges to help Tommy on his quest to become the Hero. However, as Rocky accompanies the Hero on his quest to find his Holy Grail, his son becomes frustrated by his Old Man's absence. If left alone, who knows what will happen? Will Rocky's son become an anti-hero to stop these foolish quests for virtue? This sets the stage for the drama.

Meanwhile, Rocky assumes the entire role of Old Man, and he is convinced that Tommy Gunn is the Hero who will cast down the Heavyweight Champion. However, like Rocky's son, Tommy loses his way, and he ultimately falls to the Dark Side of the Business. This is where the film fails. Due to the fact that this story has been told a million times, Rocky needs to become the Hero once more and help the aspirant realize his destiny. His son will realize that his father is a great warrior, and that he should try to emulate his every action. After a battle between the Hero and the Aspirant, they work together to defeat the Dark Lord.

Rocky V did not do this. The aspirant Hero is cast aside. They try to compensate by making the aspirant look evil, as evidenced by the early aggression at the gym, as well as his punching of Pauly. However, Tommy doesn't come across as a Dark Lord, because he isn't. Since Rocky and Tommy never reconcile, the film feels incomplete.

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