It’s been 17 years since Rocky V and 30 since the original. This week, Rocky Balboa opens, and you can almost hear the comics and late night TV hosts sharpening their knives. After all this time, why make another beat-the-long-odds boxing movie, especially when the franchise’s star, Sylvester Stallone is 60?
“The fifth one ended with no emotion,” said Stallone, looking fit in jeans and a white button down during an interview at the Ritz Carleton. “It did not come full circle. The optimism that is usually associated with Rocky was not there. There was no moral message, nothing uplifting, zero.”
John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid) directed the first and fifth Rockies, while Stallone, who cooked up the series and penned each script, helmed the others. Balboa, he says, will be the final chapter, and a tone of therapeutic necessity marks voice of the ’80’s icon. “I just wanted to end the series on the right note, and to do that, you’ve got to do it yourself. You go back to basics. If it stumbles, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.”
Even with his proven box office success it took Sly 8 years to get the green light. “They [the studio heads] weren’t very receptive. They said basically, ‘it will never happen.’” Then there was a shuffling of executives atop MGM and Sony. “Harry Sloan came in as the new CEO and said, ‘Give it a shot.’ He had that old school ethic. That’s the same reason Rocky One got made. It made no sense on paper. It was an absolute crapshoot. Today that just doesn’t happen. The real boss is the publicity departments.”
Balboa lifts a page from the George Foreman book of twilight comebacks. (At age 45, Foreman was the oldest boxer to win the heavyweight title.) “You have to address the age,” said Stallone when asked about cross-over appeal to younger audiences and the plausibility of the aged ex-champ lacing up again. “You just can’t skip over it. You have to say yes, I am archaic and I am an anachronism. Like what Clint Eastwood did with Unforgiven. You’re not what you were.”
And there’s another Rambo on the way too, which did not have any marketing snags in getting the go ahead. “He’s working with a group of younger mercenaries. It’s very different than an athlete in the ring. He’s a figurehead and the mysterious guy in the background, kind of like Lee Marvin in The Big Red One or The Dirty Dozen.”
With the mothballing of Rocky and Rambo, Stallone hopes to write and direct more. Next up after Rambo IV is an Edgar Allen Poe bio-pic. Now that’s one anachronism taking on another.