Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rocky IV

If Rocky III was a slow descent into absurdity, Rocky IV is the freefall. Sylvester Stallone’s heart might have been in the right place, but his sensibilities re no where to be found. Did he not have someone nearby who could put the brakes on some of his most outlandish ideas or did he pull a George Lucas on this one?

Rocky IV was released in 1985, the same year as Stallone starred I Rambo: First Blood, Part II. He earned a reputation in the latter, which he denies, as a jingoistic Cold Warrior single-handedly defeating the red menace. I have often wonder why Rambo was pinned in such a way when Rocky had a far bigger case of it here.

The Soviet Union introduces irts star athlete, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) into the world of American boxing. I look with amusement 25 years later on what drago is all about. The Soviets have pumped him up with steroids to make him some sort of superman to destroy any American fighter who gets in his way. There were supposed to be hints of creepy genetic engineering and sneay, underhanded unsportsmanlike behavior that Americans would certainly never do. Seems quaint now considering the prevalence off steroids in professional American sports today. Or stallone’s widely know use of HGH himself, for that matter.

Apollo, feeling his age, wants to challenge Drago in an exhibition match. Rocky plays the Mick role to him, first discouraging him, then agreeing to be in his corner. He should have listened to Rocky, though, as Drago takes the match way too seriously and kills Apollo.

“If he dies, he dies.” said Drago to the press. Seriously, Sly. Let someone read your scripts before you film them.

Rocky feels guilty because he did not throw in the towel in time to save Apollo. In true Hollywood logic, Rocky arranges to fight Drago in Siberia on Christmas Day as revenge. I have often wondered if the Christmas date was supposed to be the godless Soviets taking a jab at Christianity, but the movie is already so full of over the top knocks against the communists, I will just leave that one up to you to decide.

Of course, everyone assures Rocky he cannot win. The audience was expecting that conflict. What we were wondering is whether Rocky wants to kill Drago in the ring, just beat him up, or feels like he ought to die as penance for Apollo. It is hard to tell because the script never quite decides whether rocky is fighting for Apollo, America, or himself. Everyone has their own theory, so your enjoyment hinges on how well you think the film played out your theory.

I go with the jingoism. Apollo’s death made the fight personal for Rocky, but his demise was still merely the catalyst for an East v. West conflict. I will grant you the boxing match is the most exciting of all the ones featured so far. I have a tough time believing Rocky could win, but there you go. The speech at the end in which Rocky personally brings on perestroika is as hokey as it gets. Then again, the Soviet Union fell six years later, so what do I know?

Rocky IV is entertaining if not taken too seriously. The film is an interesting picture of how we viewed the Cold War in Ronald Reagan’s ’80’s. It is clearly defined good guys verses purely evil bad guys whose hearts are thawed out in the end by clearly defined good guy’s clearly defined goodness. It works on most levels, but itr is by no means a masterpiece.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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