Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Rocky IV (1985)

Did Stallone ever direct music videos? Because if he didn't, he missed his vocation. Those montages, man....those montages....

In fact, Rocky IV is a film of montages. Its actually Rocky MTV!

Let's be clear, we are all in agreement that Rocky IV is utterly dumb. It is completely stupid and so far removed from both reality in general and the reality of the first (and second) film that it ought to sink the franchise. So many stupid things happen in Rocky IV; like how we're supposed to believe that Rocky, a much older fighter who has nearly been destroyed by several other boxers in his career, can now go toe to toe with Ivan Drago, a steroid bingeing soviet fighter, whose punches - we are told several times over - are more than twice the average of a normal fighter. And how we're supposed to believe that a fighter with a 'relaxed brain' (as he said himself in the first sequel) can become a Springer's Final Thought style philosopher on East/West relations. No, seriously. The film concludes with a man who previously couldn't get the teenage girl on her way to becoming the neighbourhood whore to change her ways in the first film now singlehandedly bringing about Glasnost, Perestroika, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the crumbling of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Ridiculous! I mean, we all know that was David Hasselhoff, right?

Also, why end the film on such an optimistic 'hey, we're all the same underneath so why don't we just try to get along y'know?' message when you've just spent the last 80 odd minutes painting Rocky's opponent as an emotionless avatar of destruction ("if he dies, he dies") It kind of defeats the object and positive sentiment really. But this was the 1980s, and every action movie had to be about a hero out to avenge the death of his friend, brother, father (delete as applicable) Stallone obviously has forgotten at this stage that a Rocky film isn't actually supposed to be an action film, it's a sports drama, but what the heck. Ergo, Drago must be a baddie-o, rather than just a fellow athlete and sportsman (just as Clubber Lang was too). It was this kind of thing I was actually concerned about rearing its head again in Creed, especially being a) British and b) living within the limits of Merseyside like Tony Bellew's character. I was so relieved that Bellew was essentially a loudmouth in the Apollo Creed mould, and that his taciturn trainer actually had a good heart - motivated by money just so Bellew's kids could have a roof over their head once his career in the ring was over.

But I digress. Further irritants are the stupid weight and height difference between Rocky and Drago, the Russian has so much reach advantage on him it's unlikely he'd ever have been hit once. The film is applauded for its use of genuine sound effects from the ring, and its depiction of training methods, but once again we really jump the shark once we step onto the actual canvas. And the bits where Rocky and Drago grapple each other and get tossed around the ring like it's a WWE match? Seriously! Then there's the even stupider robot ("Happy Birthday Paulie") and the fact that the film seems to imply that Paulie is actually fucking that robot and NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING ABOUT THIS. Paulie is of course now the series comic relief (as well as one of Rocky's team ringside, though fuck knows what he brings to the table) rather than the alcoholic who was physically and verbally abusive to his sister and whose dream job was collecting debts for a notorious loanshark. Yup, that's loveable Paulie.

And yet....

Rocky IV is intoxicating fun. A glossy confection, with an almost Tony Scott-like sheen, this is easily the most enjoyable watch I've had in this season of revisits since the first film. Part of this might be nostalgia; I was around 6 years old when Rocky IV came out and, when on holiday in Malta, we picked its soundtrack up on tape and listened to it on a loop. It's a great soundtrack and its clear Stallone knew that, given how many fricking montages he gives us showcasing the songs, Conti's stirring instrumentals and his flashy 80s visuals. 

But is it just nostalgia? I'm not so sure. Because you can't deny Rocky IV is the most successful film of the series -  it is the most financially successful and was actually the highest grossing sports movie for twenty four years (being overtaken by The Blind Side in 2009) - so it clearly always had something. It's a film that certainly taps into the cultural ethos of the time and gives the audience exactly what it wants even if that means moving further and further away from what a Rocky movie was initially all about. In many ways, though Rocky III is an incredibly weak movie, I'm actually grateful it exists because, if we jumped straight from II to the outlandish heights of IV it would just make no sense.

Plus points - well, it's fitting that this is Carl Weathers' swansong in the series as its his best performance as Creed (and he manages to invest so much energy into the film that you almost forget Stallone is essentially just revisiting the death of Mickey storyline again just one film later) and it's nice to actually see Tony Burton as Creed's trainer Duke (a regular in the series from the start) actually have some stuff to do in this one. 

Dolph Lundgren is an imposing Ivan Drago who fits the bill perfectly as this unknowable threat from the icy mysterious East, though it's surprising to learn he actually won a Best Actor award at one film festival for his performance here as the script doesn't require him to much other than look threatening and impassive. Far more fun is what was then the future Mrs Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen as Drago's wife and self appointed spokeswoman, as always a very striking presence on film. 

A real guilty pleasure.

Knockout Rating : 3 Punches out of 5


  1. Okay, I read through to Rocky IV this time, just to make sure I didn't re-invent the wheel with regard to anything you've written!
    I was a teenager when Rocky IV came out and watched it at the pictures as a Saturday Matinee (hiding in the massive velvet curtains so I could watch it again without paying). I agree with your view of it as a fun blockbuster - I've seen it since on the box and watched it through. I don't think it is really any better than Rocky III, in some ways it is much worse because it really taps into that moment when Stallone seemed to become a media spokesperson for U.S. Republican values and policy. You can really see that the entire culture has shifted to the sort of world represented by GTA Vice City, rather than the 'Hell's Kitchen' word that characterised his early outlook. There's no meaningful human struggle in Rocky IV because it's reduced to them being silly cold war representatives. The only character who retains some normality is Adrien, who sort of takes the same position as Creed's wife advising him to 'let it go'.

    You didn't mention James Brown's crazy appearance singing Living in America...one of the best bits really.

    1. It might just be nostalgia that makes me view this as better than III, but I do think it might just zip along far better and it has that more glossy peak 80s sheen to it that immediately taps into our nostalgia - even the wish-fulfillment nostalgia of kids who weren't even around in the 80s and seem to think that's what the 80s were like; as you say the GTA generation. It doesn't bear close scrutiny though because of its ropey politics, and it is just a series of montages looking for a plot beneath those sentiments and flashy visuals. It's a startling omission from me re Mr James Brown, admittedly.