Pleading the Fifth: The Rocky V of the Family

Another surprise Mythic Bios post. And I can make a pun about boxes and boxers in the light of the upcoming solstice, but I’ll spare you those gifts – or not – and get to the main attraction.

Mythic Bios Verses Rocky V.

Now, in its heyday Mythic Bios mainly looked at mythological and geeky things, but before I go into too many tangents, I will reiterate the fact that I like to look at how stories are made, built on each other, how they have continuity with one another (or as the wise ItsJustSomeRandowGuy liked to say in his skits “Continuity – Boom!”), and how they change over time. I mainly like to look at how legacies are created: whether they are intended to be so beyond the auspices of a franchise, or not. 

I have had one, or two, partners that have jokingly invoked the American Fifth Amendment in not incriminating themselves over something they will, or might say. I guess I am doing it much the same way as I talk about the fifth movie in a series that many people do not want to exist. It is understandable, After Rocky’s legendary, even mythic, defeat of Ivan Drago in light of Apollo’s death – only to have him lose all of his property because of Paulie’s mismanagement, and then having potentially fatal brain damage, and he and his family moving back to their working class roots was a little much. I mean, look at Adrian: do you really think someone with her shrewd, calculating mind would let freaking Paulie manage their family’s resources.

No. No she would not.

It was a bit of a spectacle even beyond that, — though there is always some spectacle with these films — with George Washington Duke constantly and cartoonishly being in Rocky’s face that made Apollo’s theatrics look tame by comparison. And then a street brawl where Rocky has to fight despite having a life threatening condition – contradicting the reason he couldn’t compete anymore to begin with – and, well …

Rocky V was a mess.

Yet, there was something in it that stuck with me: an element that could have translated well into future movies: even Rocky Balboa and the Creed films. 

I’m not a sportsman. I was always a stereotypical, uncoordinated, skinny geek. But that’s not what Rocky was about. Hell, you can make the argument that Karate Kid wasn’t even about karate. Rather, both series were about individuals defying the odds and finding their place, evolving and adapting to their circumstances, to achieve something with the power of community on their sides. And both series, Karate Kid’s sequel series Cobra Kai, and Rocky’s successor Creed honour where they came from, and who was in them, and they build from them new stories, and worlds. This is what mythic world-building has always been for me: building on the old, to continue it, and also adding a new slant or narrative. This is one reason why I covered Cobra Kai on this Blog.

This is why I’m looking at Rocky right now. 

In all the other Rocky films, we see a man overcoming all of these detriments: his age, his partially blind eye, his preconceptions, his grief, and his own personal demons to victory in the term of – again – coming to grips with his own flaws, and time. In the first film, Rocky deals with the potential he left behind while facing down the reigning Champion in Apollo Creed. In the second film, he adapts to his injured eye and proves to himself that he is – and deserves to be – the Champion when he faces a Creed that is serious. By the third film, Rocky has to deal with his mentor Mickey Goldmill’s death, and having his confidence shattered by too much fame, and an aggressive but serious asshole named Clubber Lang. It is under Apollo, his former enemy turned friend that he learns how to exercise in different ways, and regain his fighting spirit. And by the fourth movie, what could easily have been a propaganda film about East versus West, the Soviet Union versus the United States, Russia versus America, or revenge for the death of his friend Apollo Rocky goes through almost a shamanic journey linking to the land in Siberia to defeat Ivan Drago, and have one last truly legendary fight against a monster. 

So where do you go from there? I mean, the easy answer is you skip the mess of a fifth movie – pleading ignorance, or protection for even thinking about it existing – and look at Rocky Balboa: at a man grieving his wife’s death, and his sense of aging, and having one last great fight before gracefully stepping away to the sunset, and welcoming and training the next Champion. 

I always wondered what would have happened if Rocky had been training all the ways he did when he was a younger man: before he left and became a reluctant enforcer. Would he have been an even better fighter? But that is irrelevant, because every encounter he had in these films and in this narrative determined the lessons he would learn, and eventually apply to his life. Rocky learned everything when he needed it. And I think there was a lesson, in the much maligned fifth film, that could have developed his character further.

His mistakes.

Many fans have hard feelings towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not a great sentence to continue this, especially with that film’s many flaws, but one thing that always gets me – and it is always tied to the Hero’s Journey – is that you have a hero’s mistakes, and you have a master’s mistakes. The hero gets older, and can’t journey anymore. At least, they can’t do it in the same way. So all they can do is see the next generation, and pass on what they have learned. And, sometimes, that hero is still young, and they think they can teach or guide someone as well as their mentors did for them. That is less Last Jedi, and more the Old Trilogy, and Rocky was made during the zeitgeist of that time: when Star Wars was at its height. And make no mistake: Rocky was a hero’s journey movie: with someone starting off small and working their way through a larger world, and finding themselves. 

I think what intrigues me so much about Rocky V is Rocky being a trainer. A teacher. A manager. He wanted to pass on his knowledge to someone who would appreciate it. He wanted to help someone much in the way he desperately wished someone would have stepped out, and helped him. You know, for all Mickey did volunteer his services, it was only when Rocky got that offer to fight Apollo Creed: even if Mickey had believed in Rocky’s abilities, and had been furious with him squandering them. I just saw Rocky wanting to give a young man, still not ground down by the world, perhaps a little rough around the edges, a chance. Rocky always wants to give people chances. Look at Spider, the first person we ever see him fighting on a lower level, and “Little Marie” – who ain’t so little when we see her in Balboa – and he offers them jobs at his restaurant. And how many times did Rocky bail out Paulie’s dysfunctional, tortured ass? 

So I like the idea that Rocky did encounter, and train, Tommy Gunn. I like the idea that he was, in a way, Rocky’s Jungian Shadow: reflecting that need to fight at all costs, and that where Rocky has heart, Tommy only wants power and glory, and has no ties to anyone. It’s heartbreaking, when you think about it. Like, imagine Mickey taking Rocky under his wing, and Rocky utterly betraying him, and smearing him: letting outside forces corrupt him and blind him to the truth of the sanctity of the spiritual fight? Or at least disrespecting tradition, history, and his own skills.

What happened with Rocky and Tommy, and even Washington is basically Obi-Wan Kenobi dealing with Anakin Skywalker getting corrupted by Palpatine. Only, it’s more messed up in that Washington only ever cared for dealing with Rocky’s image and getting that fight from him with one of his agents, and didn’t care about Tommy at all: just using him to hurt Rocky. And unlike Obi-Wan, Rocky has his family: he has Adrian, his son Robert, and even Paulie. And this isn’t even mentioning his own community. 

I know that Sylvester Stallone had Rocky IV remastered, making a director’s cut, but what about Rocky V? There might be issues with regards to deceased or aging actors, but there are effects to de-age them, or perhaps others scenes that were deleted – and not the ones like Little Marie being married to a drug-dealer: which I’m glad got cut.

So I guess the question is: how would I remaster Rocky V, and put it back in the continuity?

Well, it’s difficult. I think it should have been some time after Rocky IV. I don’t see Rocky losing his fortune, especially as he is high profile with the US government after his victory over Drago, and the people love him. I do think he would be done with fighting, and want to spend time with his family. I like the idea that he still has trouble relating to Robert, as he was always out fighting, and now that he’s there and around, there is a class and cultural difference between them as Robert has gone to some high level schools. And maybe, the issue after a while is Rocky feeling this sense of alienation. He doesn’t have Mickey or Apollo around anymore. He doesn’t fight. He’s a bit aimless. And he feels like people venerate him, and it makes him uncomfortable. He just did what he had to do in Apollo’s memory. That was it. He fought because he needed to, but now he doesn’t know where to put any of that energy, and he has trouble relating to those around him: even Paulie, and Adrian.

I am toying with the idea that this is where Adrian gets sick. She isn’t dying, but this makes Rocky want to take her and the family back to the old neighbourhood in Philadelphia. They sell off their mansion, which they don’t need anymore as Robert is older now, and Adrian never had much of a use for that property anyway. There is a good hospital for her, but she also wants Rocky to find his purpose beyond taking care of her. She wants to fight, like he does, and she doesn’t want him spending all of his waking moments at her bedside like he had in the second film. So he reopens Mighty Mickey’s gym, finds the old crowd, and starts training again: the legend having returned home, and to his roots.

This is around where he meets Tommy Gunn, and sees a lot of himself in him. Robert doesn’t understand this neighbourhood, and he wants nothing to do with fighting or anything of that kind. When I was younger, I wanted Robert to be the next champion: but this difference between father and son works better for me now. Rocky doesn’t have to be a hereditary legacy, and it isn’t if you consider Mickey and Apollo’s influence on Rocky. But I would keep Washington trying to lure Rocky out of retirement, and then targeting Tommy: who has had a history of being a drifter with anger-management issues.

I just like the focus to be Rocky not seeing Tommy as an accident waiting to happen, and also not relating to his son, and the tension where he focuses on Adrian and Tommy and nothing else. And it all degenerates much as it did in that first film. And Adrian wants Rocky and Robert to have a better relationship in case she isn’t around anymore. Everyone can see that Tommy is bad news, and even Tommy – despite initially wanting to do right by Rocky – succumbs to his worst impulses. 
In the end, when Tommy attacks Paulie, that’s pretty much it. A rabid dog has to be put down. Rocky realizes, then and there, that he has to live now, and not try to put his glory days in another. He also comes to the understanding that Tommy was never a younger version of him, that he already has a son, and he needs to protect his family – and the sanctity of the sport he bled for. For this film, Adrian would go into remission at the end, and Rocky and the rest know the fight will continue. Always.

By the time of Creed, Rocky doesn’t want to try to train another student. He remembers Gunn, and the mistake he had been, and more than that, the mistakes he made. He thought he could train Gunn as well as Mickey and Apollo and Duke. He was wrong. But despite what people said about Luke Skywalker not being a good teacher, people like him and Rocky, and Daniel LaRusso all learned from being heroes and protagonists. And I think Rocky honouring Creed’s father, and Creed himself, would be a great step: and in that restored continuity, Rocky – having given up on Mickey’s Gym (passing it onto Duke perhaps) and making Adrian’s restaurant instead – he trains someone else right. If Gunn was Rocky’s Darth Vader, then Creed would be his Luke Skywalker, minus the dying part.

It’s not perfect, and please don’t judge me on it,  but this is my long way of stating that I liked the idea of Rocky being a failed teacher who ultimately remembers what is important in life, and then later redeeming even that and becoming a great manager. We always live legacies, and mythologies. And while this rewrite would probably be a tall order, it is nice to think about. And I look forward to seeing where the next creative struggle – the next fight – leads.

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