Second Union

Second Union


Rocky IV, 1985 (Sylvester Stallone) MGM/UA

“My name is Drago. I’m a fighter from the Soviet Union. I fight all my life and I never lose. soon I fight Rocky Balboa, and the world will see his defeat. Soon, the whole world will know my name.”

Rocky Balboa might as well jump the proverbial shark rather than go toe-to-toe with Russian fighter Ivan Drago and his steroid-enhanced pecs and triceps in this ludicrous entry into the Italian Stallion franchise. The further we get away from the brilliant 1976 movie that introduced this lovable bag of muscles, the closer we get to the idea of the mythological man; the god-like pugilist who keeps being challenged from the unlikeliest of places.

In Rocky II, Apollo Creed challenges him to a re-match, which Rocky wins. In the third movie, Mr. T steps into the ring. In this fourth movie, and at the height of the United States/Soviet paranoia, Stallone crafts a paint-by-numbers script that more closely resembles a kind of “boxing porn” replete with montage and only briefly interrupted by the story. Former rival and manager Apollo Creed challenges Drago to an exhibition match. Creed asks Rocky to be his manager.

After a great deal of grandstanding and showboating (featuring James Brown and his catchy “Living in America” Eddie Murphy—eat your heart out!), the fight begins, and it doesn’t go well. Apollo toys with Drago for a while, dangling him on a string, but Drago can take a punch. He wears out Apollo before turning on him. Drago pulverizes Apollo (Apollo, being intensely stubborn and stupid tells Rocky not to throw in the towel.) in the ring, killing him before Rocky can even throw in the towel.

Rocky, in a fit of anger (and a driving montage set to “No Easy Way Out” by Robert Tepper), challenges Drago to a fight, giving up his champion status in order to participate in an unauthorized fight in Soviet Russia. Adrian (Talia Shire) who was once a font of encouragement, tells him he can’t win, but he goes anyway, taking Paulie (Burt Young) and Duke (Tony Burton), Apollo’s trainer with him. I keep forgetting to say something about Paulie. I wonder why.

We’re subjected to yet another montage, this time Rocky training in the snow set to John Cafferty’s “Heart’s on Fire,” a stirring anthem that lacks the punch of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Dolph Lundgren’s (who reminds me of a grizzly bear) performance as Drago is the true shocker of the piece. He manages to create a subtle, sympathetic character in Drago. When he says to Rocky just before the match, “I must break you,” he isn’t bragging or boasting (as Apollo would do). He is, in fact, miserable because he knows he must win for Mother Russia and not for himself.

This is a (you’ll forgive the expression) sly, subversive tone to set for what is ostensibly a battle of the superpowers. The worst movie in the Rocky franchise is oddly the most memorable, and while it did bring in the most revenue in the franchise, it was also one of the most expensive movie productions of 1985. Beginning with Rocky III, international grosses increased as well. It would all come crashing down with the next movie in the series, Rocky V.

I have it on reliable authority that Stallone’s recent “director’s cut” improves on the original material, but where I think the movie could’ve been improved was in the omission of the montage scenes. Alas, Stallone didn’t go there. Instead, he cut most of his ex-wife, Brigitte Nielsen’s scenes as well as Paulie’s robot which I, frankly, did enjoy. What Rocky IV needed desperately was a story and not montages and mindless patriotism.

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