Movie fans know all too well that you have to wade through a lot of disappointment to find the good stuff. And it’s not always some binary pile-sorting of "good movies" and "bad movies"; sometimes there’s quality material smack in the middle of the muck. Say Something Nice is dedicated to those gems - memorable, standout, even great moments from movies that...well, aren’t.
Every long-running series must have a nadir. The Rocky series definitely does. It’s Rocky IV.
Popular opinion claims Rocky V as the series’ worst entry, however. Its worthlessness is almost an axiom. I’m here to call bullshit on that.
Rocky V isn’t perfect. It’s plagued by bad casting, lame touches that date it to 1990 way too much and an unfortunate family storyline that never quite works. But it also returns Sylvester Stallone to a version of the character he abandoned in Rocky III, the streetwise motormouth with a porkpie hat who just wants to be loved. Maybe it’s not a great Rocky movie, but it’s certainly more of a legitimate Rocky movie than the action cartoon offered by Part IV. Granted, Rocky IV is fun. But I want emotion with my Rocky films more than I need great boxing, and I can't help but suspect many Rocky IV fans are only in it for the ironic ‘80s lulz.
Rocky V, on the other hand, returns humanity to this character and pulls emotional threads a lot more than detractors seem to notice or remember. Watching it now, it’s remarkable what a dry run it is for the nearly perfect Rocky Balboa, a film that wouldn’t be the same without this entry.
I genuinely had a hard time picking which scene I’d use to illustrate what makes Rocky V so deserving of reappraisal. In the end, I decided on Mickey’s monologue. If you want to call it a good scene in a bad movie, that’s fine, but you at least you just admitted to liking SOME of Rocky V:
Rocky Balboa begins with Rocky and Paulie returning to old haunts purely to trigger personal (and meta) nostalgia, but Stallone had this move going a whole movie before. Rocky visits his old gym and we’re privileged to an extended flashback containing one of the better Mickey scenes in the whole series. Seeing Burgess Meredith again after missing him for almost two films is a total surprise and treat that makes me tear up each time.
I was also very tempted to include the big street fight at the end because I love it. Like the rest of the film, there are some unfortunate touches that date it, but seeing Rocky duke it outside of the ring is a novel joy. Furthermore, director John G. Avildsen really leans into the nightmarish montage editing Stallone would later employ in Rocky Balboa (and Rambo, for that matter), further tying Part V to where the series would later head. And I’ll also argue, though I admit it’s a stretch, watching Rocky beat the shit out of Tommy Gun kind of legitimizes how obnoxious Tommy is leading up to that point. It’s like casting Paul Dano in a movie where he gets punched in the face over and over again. Genius, I say.