Friday, November 20, 2015

Rocky IV

FlashBack Friday is back again! There isn't much time to finish this Rocky series, (especially with a certain space movie coming out in about a month) so some of these reviews might not be released on Friday... just FYI. Still, I couldn't let myself not review this movie as it has all of the things that typify what people think about the Rocky series. For me, this was always my favorite one as a kid. Not only did it have the most intense fight scenes, but the villain was easily the most memorable of any opponent Rocky has faced. Though I may have seen Rocky III more times, Rocky IV was by far the best of the series to me as a kid. But how does that love hold up after all these years? SPOILER ALERT from here on out!

Rocky is living a happy life of retirement from professional boxing, preserving his legacy by leaving the sport on top. However, after a mysterious boxer from Russia named Ivan Drago comes to the USA in search of an exhibition match against the former champ, Rocky's friend Apollo Creed can't help but throw his hat into the ring. Though it's been years since Apollo has fought, he feels this Soviet fighter couldn't possibly hold a candle to his all-American greatness, and doesn't appear to take the match (or his training) as seriously as a result. But once Drago lands his first punch, it's too late for Apollo to back out, and he gets pummeled for two short rounds before succumbing to his injuries and dying in the ring. Infuriated at this brutal act of savagery on his best friend, Rocky agrees to fight the towering Russian in the USSR on Christmas day... much to the chagrin of his terrified wife.

Man, Rocky IV is a tricky one to analyze. On one hand, it has easily the most dramatic moment in the entire franchise with the shocking death of Apollo Creed - which sets up Drago as the ultimate villain for Rocky to face. But at the same time, it also has silly scenes with a robot and not much character development beyond the Rocky/Adrian conflict about facing the murderous Drago. For me, a movie like this is so gut-wrenching and involving that I can't help but get swept up in the melodrama and the anticipation of this epically built-up battle. I hate seeing Apollo die as an adult, as he's been one of my favorite characters of the whole series. But as a kid, I was totally in Drago's corner, for some reason. I even dressed up as him for Halloween when I was in fifth grade... not sure what that means... As someone who gets wrapped up in sporting events, I find myself investing completely in these fights no matter how many times I've seen them. It's perfectly orchestrated to play on our emotions, and the awesomely cheesy '80s style only accentuates those moments even more.

Speaking of the '80s, one of the most memorable things about this movie is the music. To this day I still consider it to be one of the best soundtracks of all time, not to mention the best workout music ever written. That isn't even an opinion, I'm pretty sure it's scientifically proven. It starts with the classic "Eye of the Tiger" with two mechanical gloves representing the USA and USSR that smash into each other. Then, before the exhibition fight between Apollo and Drago, we get "Living in America" with James Brown actually there! Following the tragic fight and after arguing with Adrian about his upcoming bout with Drago, Rocky drives down a tunnel to the tune of the awesome "There's No Easy Way Out" while showing a montage of the entire Rocky series. I freaking love this scene, and could probably recount the montage shot for shot (with its accompanying musical beats) if I had to. Next is Survivor's other hit, "In the Burning Heart", which may be a bit obviously written, but still works perfectly for their arrival in the cold, harsh climate of mother Russia. But above any of the pop songs, the musical score of both the training montage and the fight versus Drago are the most memorable to me. I don't care who you are, but if you try working out to the "Training Montage" track, you'll probably end up overdoing whatever exercise you're on. Trust me that music's caused me some trouble over the years, but you can't hold back when you've got that blaring in your ears!

If there is one song I could live without, it's the second training montage song, "Hearts on Fire", which after "In the Burning Heart" seems a little redundant... It's just a little too corny for me (which is saying a lot). Even with that silly music, some of the training regimes Rocky is pulling off are pretty impressive. I'm sure Stallone was getting a little bit of help, but he is insanely ripped in this movie. Still, he's so much smaller than Dolph Lundgren that we're always a little apprehensive when he does go into that hostile environment to fight the giant blonde. As a kid, this final match was always my favorite part of the film (possibly of the entire series), and I still love it to this day. Rocky is just such an underdog we can't help rooting for him, and that moment where he finally gets a hit on the seemingly invincible Russian is a huge dose of adrenaline. From then on it's a legitimate battle for both contenders, and I love seeing them go all in to try to defeat the other.

The only problem with this fight is that Rocky has a little too much energy at the end of this fight. I would have liked him to be a lot more worn out after going up against such a seemingly insurmountable foe. To make matters worse, he follows up this victory with one of the most parodied speeches in movie history. Granted, if I'd just been pummeled by Ivan Drago for fifteen rounds I doubt I could come up with anything better. I can more or less go with the speech given the historical context and the earnestness in which it's delivered by Stallone. It is a little silly that the entire arena is suddenly cheering for Rocky (including a government looks like Mikhail Gorbachev), when in reality they would have probably shut off the cameras and Rocky would have never been seen again. Still, this is a sports fantasy, and I can go with the far-fetched as long as it's satisfying.

In closing, Rocky IV is a tremendous sports drama, with high stakes and surges of adrenaline that are unmatched in this entire series. The death of Apollo, the epic fight against Drago, and the amazing music throughout make this one of the most entertaining entries of the franchise. True, it has it's weaker elements, but at the end of the day, this movie accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It may be the most entertaining film in the series, if not the best, and I'm giving it very very strong three and half stars.

ROCKY IV is rated PG for intense sequences of boxing violence, peril, and some mild language