Rocky IV

Out of all the Rocky movies, Rocky IV strayed most from the original formula. Even in Rocky III, though Rocky was a rich millionaire champion, he was still the underdog challenger by the end of the fight. There was something on the line, rather if it was his pride, overcoming his fears, or just proving that he wasn’t a bum. In Rocky IV, it’s a bit different. He’s not really fighting to prove anything near the end of the movie. He’s avenging his friend, Apollo Creed’s death. So really, he’s not taking a fight that he doesn’t believe he can win, he’s taking it out of anger, trying to prove in the end that good will overcome evil.

Who is the evil? Well, it’s the USSR disguised as Ivan Drago. Played by the non-Russian Dolph Lungren, Ivan Drago is the ultimate evil. He wasn’t just a bully like Clubber Lang was. He wasn’t just a flashy champ like Apollo was. He was a man who was engineered to hurt people and do it unfairly. In something that wasn’t that big of a deal in 1985, but really is the biggest thing that stands out in this movie in 2006, Ivan Drago takes anabolic steroids. Not only does a reporter ask Drago and his wife, played by Brigitte Nielson, if Drago takes steroids, but he also asks him if they blood dope. I couldn’t imagine the boxing organizations were happy about Stallone including dialogue about steroids in the movie. And it’s also interesting because after changing his body in 1982, he was dogged by steroid rumors. Maybe that was his big middle finger to the critics at the time.

Stallone plays the Cold War angle as the heart of the movie and though at the end, everyone is happy and the Soviets accept Balboa as a testament to his courage and heart, it’s still clear that this was a USA beats USSR movie. And that was fine because it really touched folks to the tune of nearly 130 million dollars in US box office.

Maybe the biggest difference in this movie as to how it compares to the Rocky series is that for the only time, Bill Conti is nowhere to be found. Conti was the man behind all of the music in Rocky. The music really helped heighten the perspective of Rocky Balboa and his demeanor. And that is sorely missing from this film. Rocky’s demeanor for the most part is angrily quiet. Conti’s music would’ve been great to enhance his emotions as a man who is willing to give his life to avenge his friend’s death. I mentioned this death thing twice already, so maybe I should spill the beans a bit. The reason why Rocky is so angry is because Drago and Apollo Creed were to have an exhibition bout which would be Creed’s comeback fight after a five year layoff since he lost the championship to Rocky. In an exhibition fight, the combatants know that while the goal is to win, it’s not to maim. No one told Drago. Drago destroy’s Creed and he dies in the ring, setting up everything.

The movie is the shortest in time of all of them and has the least amount of dialogue. There are no less than three montages to music with training footage and flashback scenes from the prior three movies. And throw in a 4 minute appearance by James Brown singing Living In America featuring Apollo Creed dancing in boxing gloves and a top hat colored in the American flag, and you have something like 15-20 minutes of the movie in music. It really plays like one long music video. They are great packages, but it seems like an excuse so they don’t have to tell the story.

It may sound like I don’t like this movie, but that’s not the case. It’s very entertaining. To many Rocky fans, this was the most inspiring (though that’s not the case at all as the original Rocky is). The fight scenes between Rocky and Ivan Drago are the most barbaric as well as hardest to believe, but they are choreographed so well. While Drago has only a few lines of dialogue the entire movie, the best line is when the fans turn on him in his own country and he screams at them saying that he’s not doing it for them, he’s doing it for him. But he screams it in Russian saying, “Yaaseeebeeeyaaaaah, yaaseeebeeeyaaaaah.” Drago plays the role like you’d play a machine like man. He’s stiff. He has a stone cold look on his face. And he has this sharp flat top that would make Brigitte Nielson jealous. And I’m sure it did. Actually, Stallone has gone on record saying that he should’ve married Lungren and slugged it out with Nielson. I guess the post Rocky IV nuptials weren’t too great between Stallone and Nielson.

There aren’t any storyline inaccuracies that I could see, though there were some odd ball-ish things. The Balboa’s had a robot that became Paulie’s girlfriend. Really. Also, Rocky is either by this time so punchy that he can’t make any sense, or they try to play up his dumb side after his role as the corporate Rocky in the third film. The one thing that they don’t mention, but they fail to bring it up in the third film as well, is that all of a sudden, Rocky’s right eye that was so damaged in the second film that he had to retire, is not an issue.

One thing I need to mention is that they really made Adrian an unlikeable character. Where she was originally the heart of the first three films, she becomes the wicked witch of the west. And while it’s mostly because she doesn’t want Rocky to get hurt, she questions whether he can win or not, which is a no no, especially for the wife of the main character. This was where she became far more of a hindrance than the support she was in the first three films.

While it’s a really solid action/sports film, it’s the one film that doesn’t feel like Rocky. Even the horrible Rocky V felt more like Rocky than this one did. But it’s still a good chapter as odd as it feels, and is pretty necessary to tell the entire story through Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, the sixth and final film.

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