Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rocky IV

As mentioned in my review of Rocky III, that film marked the franchise going in a more campy direction. 1985’s Rocky IV (trailer) embraces the campiness full scale as the theme for this film is essentially Rocky vs. the Soviet Union. Like Rocky III, yesterday marked my first time watching Rocky IV since 2004 and I went into it with fond memories of Balboa crushing communism and equal love/disgust for Paulie’s robot. I also watched this with bonus audio commentary from Dan Ryckert and Drew Scanlon of, and it only made the film more delightful to take in as Dan’s natural fandom and love for the Rocky series is ever present in his commentary and you can tell it definitely rubs off a little bit on Drew by the end of the movie who is watching Rocky IV for the first time.

Like the previous films, Rocky IV opens with the final moments of the closing fight of the previous film, which was Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) beating Clubber Lang (Mr. T) to regain his world championship. We then fast forward to modern day where Rocky is enjoying his success at home again with him, his son Rocky Jr. and wife Adrian (Talia Shire) throwing a birthday party for Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young). I was happy to see Burt Young slim up for Rocky II and how they really reformed his character, but by Rocky IV he regressed back to being the burly, outspoken drunken Paulie we all know and love. They give Paulie a robot for his birthday, and the robot is so dumb and out of place for this film that I cannot help but be happy that this talking robot is the perfect match for the silly nature of Paulie.

Within minutes of Rocky IV I could not help but accept how off-the-rails the movies have become. Rocky’s former rival and new best friend, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) embraces the silliness too as he is so outraged at Soviet Union amateur boxing champion Ivan Drago (Dolph Lungdren) announcing himself entering United States boxing competition that he accepts his invitation for a boxing exhibition to prove himself to the American audience. Rocky and Adrian try to warn Apollo not to do the fight as he has been retired for five years and they think he does not have what it takes to compete with a hungry monster like Drago.
Creed’s powers of smooth-talking puts their reservations to rest, and Creed shows up to the exhibition fight with the most flamboyant entrance in boxing history. This entrance puts his patriotic All-American entrances from the first two films to shame as he comes out busting a groove in vintage Apollo-form with countless backup dancers and James Brown singing “Living in America” in almost its entirety. I could not help but love how ridiculous it was and how fitting it is for Apollo, and if half the film’s budget went to the Super Bowl halftime show-like spectacle that was Apollo’s entrance than it was definitely worth it.

It is too bad the entrance did nothing for Creed’s performance in the ring as Drago shows no mercy in this fight as he literally beats Apollo Creed TO DEATH! A devastated Balboa swears vengeance for his fallen BFF and since Drago is essentially blackballed from America for killing one of its heroes, Rocky must now travel to the Soviet Union on Drago’s home turf on Christmas day no less to avenge Apollo’s death while also vanquishing Communism and fighting for the All-American way. It is from here the film goes into fifth gear montage overdrive as we get nearly a half hour of a series of montages starting off with a franchise first sad montage of Rocky going into self doubt and reflecting on his past memories of Apollo, and then a montage of him arriving in the Soviet Union. We save the best montage for last however as we are treated to the quintessential Rocky training montage set to the awesome 80s power ballad, “Hearts on Fire” that shows Drago working out to the latest hi-tech gym gadgetry while Balboa says “screw the gym, I am going to run up mountains, chop wood, drag sleds through the snow and run up a mountain!” It is by far, the manliest training montage in all of cinema history and just writing this sentence and reliving it now makes me want to go do a run in the woods and chop down some trees!

When it comes to the big final fight in the Soviet Union, Drago gets a hero’s entrance set to the Soviet Union national anthem, while Rocky comes out to a chorus of boos from an audience that wants to see him go down in flames. The fight itself is a thing of beauty, as both Drago and Rocky go the distance treating us to a 15-round epic shot in the same way as the first two Rocky films where we see the first two rounds in their entirety, and then a montage of rounds 3-14 that sets the stage for the final, 15th round where everything comes to a boil. I made sure to keep track, and Balboa gets knocked down a whopping six times by the ferocious Drago, but of course Rocky keeps getting up!

The final fight tells a great story that through Balboa’s natural fighting spirit and never-give-up attitude that he wins over the crowd by the final round and turns them in his favor. After the fight he gives a fantastic interview where he delivers the classic closing line, “Everyone can change” to the audience’s approval, and even the Soviet Union officials watching from the balcony cannot resist but give Rocky a standing ovation. Yes, by the film’s end Rocky singlehandedly crushes Communism and ends the Cold War…at least that is how I perceived it.

A part of me wishes I was my age now when Rocky IV hit theaters as I recall hearing various stories over the years on how Rocky IV got actual standing ovations when the credits hit. I believe it too, because in 1985 we were still five years away from the end of the Cold War, and Rocky IV was the perfect answer to help us fantasize the end of it. I have a special place on the side for Rocky IV in the echelon of the Rocky films. I love Rocky I, II and Rocky Balboa as serious, prestige sports films, but because Rocky IV is so ridiculous and campy with Rocky crushing Communism and avenging his friend’s in-ring death, and the awesome final fight sequence all combines for one of the all-time greatest feel-good sports movies.

Past Rocky Blogs

Rocky III
Rocky II

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