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Musings from the Edge of Forever

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Gwailo Corner: ROCKY IV (1985)

Rocky IV

Year: 1985

Director/Writer: Sylvester Stallone


Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielson, Tony Burton, James Brown (cameo)


Rocky Balboa singlehandedly defeats Communism, signaling the beginning of the end of the Cold War some six years before the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Just kidding.

After beating Clubber “I Pity The Fool” Lang and successfully regaining the heavyweight championship of the world, Rocky returns to Philadelphia for some rest and relaxation. The story picks up just after Rocky honors the “favor” he promised to Apollo for training him in Rocky III. A new challenger enters as Russian ubermensch Ivan Drago seeks to make his U.S. debut as a professional boxer, hoping to battle Rocky Balboa in the ring. Motivated by a midlife crisis and a woefully misplaced sense of patriotism, Apollo Creed challenges Drago to an exhibition bout in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, Apollo doesn’t take Drago very seriously as an opponent and gets “murderized” in the ring by the sadistic Aryan cyborg (okay, he’s not a cyborg). Against Adrian’s wishes, Rocky vows revenge, challenging Drago to an unsanctioned boxing match, which is scheduled for Christmas Day in Moscow. Can the smaller Rocky beat the gargantuan Russian on his home turf? In my best Rocky impression, I say, “Absolootely.”
Paulie’s A-Hole Factor:

Negligible. Actually, THIS is the Paulie I remember as a kid — grumpy, but basically comic relief. It was quite a shock to see how much of an A-hole he was in prior films since this was the performance that was so ingrained in my memory. Not only does Paulie embark on a silly “romance” with a robot (don’t ask), but Rocky IV actually contains probably the single most touching, genuine moment between Rocky and Paulie in the entire series, as Paulie admits his gratitude, love, and respect for Rocky’s loyalty as a friend all these years. And in true Paulie fashion, it’s nicely undercut by a joke five minutes later.

Random Observations:

The more articulate and well-spoken Rocky gets in the series, the less he actually says. The guy we met in the original Rocky was an amusing motormouth, but in III and IV, he’s quite introspective and less prone to initiate dialogue with others.

For some reason, Rocky and Adrian have no problem leaving Rocky, Jr. alone with the hired help. They do it in Rocky III when Rocky goes to California to train (Adrian and the kid can’t stay in a separate hotel?), and here, they leave him by himself on Christmas Day no less. Great parenting, knuckleheads.

The opening scene in which two silver boxing gloves, each with the flags of the US and the Soviet Union respectively, slam into each other is a thing of beauty. Eye of the Tiger, baby!

Training Montage:

There’s not one. Not two. But THREE montages in Rocky IV. The first is perhaps a “pre-training” montage set to Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out. It’s basically a music video-style retrospective of everything that’s happened in the series up until Apollo’s death. The second montage is accompanied by new composer Vince Di Cola’s appropriately titled “Training Montage.” After a Rocky gets a renewed sense of self-confidence, the film launches into a second training montage set to John Cafferty’s “Hearts on Fire.” In both sequences, Rocky’s stripped down training method in the frozen tundra of Russia is cut together with Drago’s nefarious, steroid-enhanced, technologically “superior” regimen in a concentrated efffort to show not only what Rocky’s up against, but to suggest that “good ol’ fashioned hard work” is the way to go. No steps to climb? No problem. Rocky will climb a frickin’ mountain. Eat that, Drago.

Di Cola does quote “Gonna Fly Now” with a few notes here and there, but the song is not as present in part IV due to a temporary falling out between Stallone and original composer Bill Conti. It doesn’t really matter though. “Gonna Fly Now” doesn’t quite fit the tone of the film, which is essentially a disguised “revenge story.” DRAGOOOO!

Best Lines:

“I must break you.” — Ivan Drago

“You’re gonna have to go through hell, worse than any nightmare you’ve ever dreamed. But when it’s over, I know you’ll be the one standing. You know what you have to do. Do it. Do it.” – Duke

“I know sometimes I act stupid and I say stupid things, but you kept me around and other people would have said ‘drop that bum.’ You give me respect. You know it’s kinda hard for me to say these kinda things, cuz it ain’t my way, but if I could just unzip myself and step out and be someone else, I’d wanna be you. You’re all heart, Rock.” — Paulie
Box Office:
The highest grossing Rocky film of all time — $127.8 million in the US for a total of $300 million worldwide.

The Final Bout:

Probably the best, at least from a cinematic standpoint, although it’s really annoying that Rocky returns to his “Punch Me in the Face” non-strategy against Drago. Kind of goes against everything he learned in Rocky III. All Rocky movies are supposed to be a David and Goliath tale, but this one seems much more literal, as the opponent is more or less a comic book supervillain in the most generic sense of the term. Don’t get me wrong, Drago is an imposing figure and it’s great to see Rocky whale on him, but once again, this is Rocky in action hero mode, not in serious drama mode. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But without real drama, the victory isn’t as sweet.

Final Decision:

Rocky IV is the epitome of the 80s blockbuster movie. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is debatable. Plot-wise, it’s the weakest, as again the Rocky/Adrian relationship boils down to little more than an “Adrian forbids it/Adrian supports Rocky” one-two punch. However, in terms of sheer spectacle, Rocky IV is the best (i.e. most commercial) of the series, as it’s mainly a stringing together of “big moments” rather than telling a real story. Sure, the movie is about “avenging Apollo Creed” so in a sense there’s supposed to be an emotional weight to it, but it’s not really there. It’s also pretty interesting how Stallone glosses over the thought process that goes into Rocky challenging Drago. On pure emotional movie logic, it makes sense, but intellectually, it’s somewhat of a stretch. Still, I can’t deny how fun this movie is — I’m not ashamed to say that the movie’s pumping 80s soundtrack gets me every time. Guilty pleasure? Absolootely.


One Response to “Gwailo Corner: ROCKY IV (1985)”


    […] I know Rocky IV. Rocky IV is a guilty pleasure of mine. And Ip Man 2 is no Rocky IV. Oh, it certainly tries to be. As Kozo said in his review, the second half of Wilson Yip’s 2010 film “is basically a blow-by-blow retread” of the fourth installment of the Balboa legend. Remember when Apollo Creed told Rocky not to throw in the towel? Remember when Apollo went ahead and got killed by the Russian, Ivan Drago? And remember when Rocky beat Drago, won the Russian crowd over, and gave a speech about cross-cultural understanding, which the announcer translated for a no longer hostile audience? Yeah, well, so did Wilson Yip. Except he didn’t do it half as well as Sly. […]

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