In anticipation of the November 25th release of CREED, we’ll be taking a look back at the ROCKY franchise and discussing why these characters and this world are still relevant and necessary forty years later.
Rocky IV is a movie in the loosest of terms. It is a series of images projected in mostly sequential order that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Looked upon in high esteem by kids who don’t know any better, frat bros and mentally disturbed older men, Rocky IV is the movie people are thinking of when they try to say they don’t like these movies.
If Rocky IV existed as the sole movie in the Rocky franchise, it would rightfully be considered a propaganda film. We pick up in the midst of the cold war, with Russia growing as a world power, exemplified by their now inhuman dominance in the ring. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is ripping out the collective throat of the boxing world and wants a shot at America’s champ, Rocky Balboa. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), however, will have none of that and makes it his personal crusade to America all over Ivan’s Russian face. In a fight which the bloodbath is matched only by the pre-show theatrics (Apollo Creed getting jiggy with James Brown), Ivan Drago literally kills Apollo. Rocky holds himself responsible as he, upon Apollo’s orders, refused to throw in the towel as Apollo was being beaten to death. This sets Rocky off on his mission to avenge his friend, topple communism and do one-handed push-ups in the Russian wilderness.
Also, Paulie gets a robot that he programs to have a sexy voice and do god knows what with. America!
Sylvester Stallone directs for the third time in this series and makes it clear that his sensibilities have run wildly amok and further into the silly direction initially set forth by Rocky III. We are so far removed from the character of Rocky Balboa we met in the first two and a half movies that, aside from the major plot points, it’s hard to call this part of the overall canon. Audiences love Rocky because he’s a good man who got a shot at being great. That’s the backbone of American society. We the people feed on the belief that we are all going to be great one day. Ninety-nine percent of Americans will never see their dreams achieved (that’s based on actual science and charts and stuff) but that doesn’t keep people from trying every single day. Rocky Balboa is the embodiment of what it means to want something greater and, to a certain extent, achieve those goals. Rocky IV is the American wished fulfilled to a masturbatory degree. Not only did the good guy get a shot, but now he’s saving the world and toppling a destructive regime all with the power of his punch. That isn’t Rocky Balboa and even with the red, white and blue facade, it isn’t America. As we’ll find out in the excellent sixth entry in this series, it’s about how hard we get punched and keep moving forward, not the other way around.
Technically, Rocky IV is a breeze to get through. At a brisk 91 minutes, Rocky IV is at least not a chore in the physical sense. It’s an easy movie, filled with an absurd amount of montages and little actual drama. In what might be the ultimate ridiculous montage, Rocky’s all natural approach to training is spliced along side of Drago’s uber scientific, steroid-addled regime. Lacking the depth and character of all previous training montages, this one serves as perfect representation of everything the movie is.
In the end, Rocky has turned the hometown Russian crowd against their champion, Drago, and has even succeeded in getting members of the government to see the error of their ways. In his post-fight speech, Rocky says, “… we all can change.” Well, guy pretending to be Mr. Balboa, you’re not wrong. You’ve changed into something that walks, talks and smells like Rocky Balboa, but you most definitely are not Rocky Balboa.
Thankfully, we are coming to the wrongfully maligned Rocky V in which we finally get our Rocky back. He’s certainly been missed.