daftmonk’s review published on Letterboxd:
After a three film run Sylvester Stallone steps back from the director’s chair on the final numbered Rocky installment, content to simply write and star in the film, as the original Rocky director John G. Avildsen returns to the franchise. The flash of the last installment is gone here as Rocky’s health has been put in to danger and he begins the film by retiring from the ring. It’s almost a return to the realism of the first two films that wants to show the toll of boxing but it is decidedly softened because it’s the 90’s not the 70’s moving Rocky’s family drama front and center. Despite Rocky Jr, played compellingly by Stallone’s son Sage, now being the stated center of Rocky’s universe, his son is feeling neglected by his father. I get that. In Rocky II, Rocky doesn’t appear to meet his son until <spoiler> Adrian recovers from her delivery induced coma despite it seeming to go on for a bit and in Rocky IV Junior gets left in the care of a robot.
I felt that the last installment felt a bit first draft-ish, and with Avildsen on board here it feels like he might have gotten a second draft out of Stallone but there are still a number of script problems. The returning characters aren’t given too much to do while our new players, up and coming fighter Tommy Gunn and sleazy promoter George Washington Duke are poorly defined. Gunn is the least interesting fighter in the series and Duke is a sketch comedy version of Don King with no nuance. The “Rocky training a fighter” plot is disappointing because a variation is much better executed in Creed. The soundtrack finds the welcome return of Bill Conti surrounded by plenty of hip hop including a couple of MC Hammer tracks.
Ultimately, the film never hits it’s stride despite a story that could have worked as a fitting finale for the franchise. Fortunately, it was too early to count Rocky out.