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Movie Review: Rocky IV

Rocky IV
Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone
United Artists, 1985

Rocky IV is the most ridiculous film of the franchise, but it also might be the most fun.  Filmed in the mid-eighties, Rocky IV has two conventions of the era: Manufacturing enemies from the Cold War, and having a revenge plot.

Sylvester Stallone is behind the camera for the third straight time, fresh off directing the overwhelmingly critically trashed 1983 John Travolta disco hit Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever.  At this point, Stallone is known for two iconic heroes: Rocky, and now Rambo, both of which he portrayed in 1982 and turned the trick again here in 1985.  Stallone is a megastar at this point, a go-to action guy in an era tailor-made for him.

With that comes tabloid fodder, and at this point Stallone is dating and later marries 22-year-old Dane model Brigitte Nielsen, who also appears in this film as the wife of one of the best eighties villains ever, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).  In other words, Rocky IV comes with a ton of extra baggage for moviegoers.  Stallone is no longer a stuggling actor, he’s got a new character in Rambo in which audiences also identify, he’s a megastar, and all of this goes into the new Rocky film, as Rocky becomes…U.S. Ambassador?

After the rematch with Clubber Lang, a new indestructible challenger comes from the land of Russia.  With steroids and advanced technology on his side, Ivan Drago is a robot, a monster.  He comes to America with his wife Ludmilla (Nielsen) and Soviet government types looking to show how more advanced their athletes are.  This draws the concern of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who wants to beat Drago with his brains and show that braun isn’t everything.

Drago not only wins the exhibition bout, he literally kills Apollo.  So, despite the urgings of Rocky’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire), the iconic boxer wants to go toe-to-toe with the Russian in the Soviet Union, no pay, no title on the line, it’s personal; his former foe-turned-friend Apollo dead.  With the help of the trusty Paulie (Burt Young) and Apollo’s trainer Duke (Tony Burton), Rocky trains in Mother Russia, complete with a montage showing he and Drago’s similarities even though their training style is different.

In fact, there’s about four montages in this movie; it made me wonder if the Rocky movies could have survived just by doing montages for ninety minutes.  There’s one absolutely unnecessary one right smack in the middle of this movie as Stallone drives his car….somewhere, and clips from the first three Rocky films play.  If Rocky III’s mantra was “eye of the tiger” then Rocky IV’s has something to do with chopping wood, as the training montage unintentionally hilariously compares Drago’s knocking down a sparring partner with Rocky’s chopping down a tree.  Then later, in the ring, he’s being urged to “chop him down.”

Then, the fight.  Rocky is so overmatched, this time the pugilistic abuse he takes is impossible.  In Rocky III, you could kind of see him getting out of the ring alive, but not this time.  He has become Superman by this point.  But folks, this isn’t the most ridiculous part of the picture.  It’s when the partisan Russian crowd starts rooting for Rocky that the film has entered a new level of awesomely bad.  Rocky’s speech in the end to the spectators, “If I can change, and you can change, everyone can change,” goes down in film history as one of the funniest speeches to mock ever.

Despite being completely detached from the original film and going to ridiculous heights, Rocky IV may very well be a must-see, if only as a study of eighties pop trash.  Drago’s “I must break you,” became a signature line from the era.  One of my favorite bad movies of all time.

Follows: Rocky III

Next: Rocky V

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