This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Evan Popplestone’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
After the overblown Cold War rhetoric of Rocky IV, this fifth entry attempted to take the series back to its roots, even down to reuniting Sylvester Stallone with director John G. Avildsen. Unfortunately, it ends up being just as dumb as its predecessor.
You can partially see why Stallone wanted to take a step back at that moment in time. Back in 1985, he was Hollywood's most bankable star after Rocky IV and Rambo: First Blood Part II took $300 million apiece at the box office. He was the toast of the Reagans in the White House and got hitched to the stunning Brigitte Nielsen. However, while he didn't exactly sink from riches to rags, he doubtless felt some disappointment after his marriage to Brigitte crumbled two years later and his subsequent few movies performed beneath expectations. By 1990, it was his then rival Arnold Schwarzenegger who sat atop the bankable star list with the inventive sci-fi hit Total Recall. That must've stung quite a bit.
However, the setup here is so contrived and cliched that it just becomes impossible to buy. Okay, so fair enough - the subject of brain damage is finally broached by the series, as is the fact that it causes him to hang up his boxing gloves. However, for him to suddenly lose his fortune due to a dodgy accountant, thus forcing him and his family to return to his old neighbourhood in Philly? It just feels glaringly fake. For him to mentor a young upstart (Tommy Morrison) who suddenly goes all Anakin Skywalker after he is seduced by a flashy Don King style promoter (Richard Gant)? Feel the cliche! For his mentoring to cause him to suddenly neglect his offspring (real-life son Sage Stallone), who has is own problems with some local bullies and the like? An obvious tactic to work in some slushy family conflict.
It doesn't help that the sentiment is laid on with a trowel at every opportunity. It doesn't help either that the acting is either incredibly weak (Stallone Jr. and the other children) or laughably overdone (pretty much everyone else).
Still, the big climactic street fight showdown and psychotronic flashback effects are quite enjoyably hammy.