This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Rocky IV.”
The Movie: “Rocky IV” (1985)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Talia Shire
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) After iron man Drago, a highly intimidating 6-foot-5, 261-pound Soviet athlete, kills Apollo Creed in an exhibition match, Rocky comes to the heart of Russia for 15 pile-driving boxing rounds of revenge.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39 percent
Brown: While Sports Month may be over for the JOE-DOWN, patriotism knows no such restrictions!
I tried finding the most American movie I could find, and nothing could match a jacked-up (see: clearly roided up) man in U.S.A. flag trunks whaling on a foreigner from the Soviet Union. After this movie, I saluted the screen, with a bald eagle egg-sized single tear rolling down my cheek as I hummed Lee Greenwood’s “Proud To Be An American.”
So Froemming, after going 15 rounds with this flick, how much more American do you feel?
Froemming: “Rock, Flag and Eagle!” Yup, I was feeling Charlie Kelly from “It’s Always Sunny” patriotic after rewatching this movie for the umpteenth time in my life.
Before we get too far, I want to say “Rocky IV” is my favorite of the series. While the first “Rocky” was obviously the best of all the films, this one has always struck a chord in me because it was the film where the “Rocky” series jumped the shark into breathtaking awesomeness/weirdness. From Rocky winning the Cold War, to Paulie and his robot, to James Brown and the million montages in this film, “Rocky IV” should have been a mess, but for some reason it all fits perfectly into place.
Brown: The pieces may fit into place because this is like one of those six-piece puzzles you’d buy an 18-month old. This movie is about 20 minutes of plot and the rest of the film is made up of music video-like montages and fight scenes.
Which is a good segue because this film opens with the Rocky Balboa (Stallone)/Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) fight that ended “Rocky III,” followed by Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” which opened “Rocky III.” I honestly thought I grabbed the wrong movie before I saw the cheesy rocket boxing gloves that launch at each other like that terrible colliding football helmet gimmick “Monday Night Football” used to have. It’s more egregious than when Hulk Hogan headbutted a Soviet flag.
Froemming: Yeah, it is a little off-putting with the final scenes from the previous movie begin this one, but that’s how the Rocky films are.
But let’s get into this beast of a film. So, we see the autumn years of Apollo Creed at the start, and he clearly misses the action of having his face pounded into hamburger for a living. We also see Rocky living the domestic life with two Lamborghinis, a mansion and — a robot. Now, I really wanted to make a lot of fun about this robot, because it seemed like the sort of idea that someone on a cocaine binge would come up with. But you did some investigating on this, didn’t you, Brown?
Brown: A simple Google search found a story from The Telegraph in the U.K. that the robot (known as Sico) was put in the movie because its creator said the robot could be used to help autistic kids with communicating. Stallone’s son is autistic, so he took an interest and decided to put Sico in “Rocky IV.” It’s also insane that this robot was also part of the Screen Actors Guild, toured with James Brown and entertained then-president Ronald Reagan. Here’s a link to that story.
Froemming: That robot has done more in its artificial life than we have in our very real ones. That’s a sobering thought.
Brown: If you won’t say it, I will: The robot is the most out-of-left-field thing I have seen in a movie. The first two Rocky movies were based heavily in reality and wasn’t filled with glitz and glamor. “Rocky III” started to go down that route, but “Rocky IV” took it to a gargantuan level. And this robot, with its pro wrestler-like entrance in the movie down to it acting like Paulie’s subservient girlfriend is just so mystifying that it almost takes away from any plot going on at that point.
I applaud why it was in the movie. But I’m not going to pretend that I’m OK with my jaw hitting the floor with how flabbergasted it made me.
Froemming: To be fair, it wasn’t the most troubling part of this film for me, that comes later with the Herculean strength of our Russian antagonist, Ivan Drago.
Now, to move things along, Drago is the pride of the U.S.S.R. And the Russians want this human killing machine to box Rocky in a exhibition match. But Apollo, not willing to retire and live a loving life with his wife and children (and perhaps someday, baby, to get a stew going), decides that he can take on this younger, stronger boxer after being out of the ring for five years. I think Apollo was on a suicide mission from the start.
Brown: This was actually an interesting part of the movie. You see it a lot in sports where an athlete just doesn’t know when to quit. And this was the point Apollo was at.
But when you have a freight train like Ivan Drago coming your way, there’s not much anyone can do.
Drago is leaving the amateur ranks and becoming a professional fighter, surrounded by his manager and his wife (Brigitte Nielsen). And in showing the U.S.S.R.’s superiority in body chemistry (they just need to come right out and say steroids if you’re using a term like “body chemistry”), they demonstrate Drago’s punch power: 1,850 pounds per square inch (2,150 psi later in the movie). As the manager says: “Whatever he hits, he destroys.”
I looked up what the equivalent of what 2,150 psi would be close to getting in a car crash at 35 miles/hour. Real-life heavyweight boxers don’t even get up to 1,000 psi. Every punch Drago throws should be lethal. But, Apollo’s resolve is like steel, so let’s move on to his
Froemming: Yup, in real life Drago would have killed both Apollo and Rocky with one hit. But that is according to Russian science, and therefore untrustworthy because they are shady people who hate America and freedom (in the 1980s at least, according to action movies of the era).
Now, we have the Creed/Drago fight, but right before they start clobbering each other, we get a song and dance number by James Brown, where Apollo wastes way too much of his energy on.
And Apollo is all swagger and attitude right up to the fight. It’s when they bump gloves and Drago’s arms don’t even budge (and sounds like steel) that you see the “I’m (redacted)” look on Creed’s face. Right then he knew he was doomed.
Brown: I will say this: Much like Schwarzenegger in the first “Terminator” movie, Dolph Lundgren is perfect as Drago because he’s got that icy cold demeanor. Can he act? His filmography says no. But, for the few lines Lundgren has in this movie, he makes them impactful, so there’s something to be said for that.
Early on, Apollo has the upper hand against the burly Russian. Then like what happens in all the Rocky movies, someone in Drago’s corner yells and the fight turns on a dime. Round 1 ends with Creed a bloody, punch-drunk mess, but he won’t quit. Bad move, bro. Maybe don’t waste your energy partying with James Brown beforehand.
Froemming: I think it is time we finally admit it: If Rocky would have done his job as a corner man, Apollo would be alive. Rocky let Drago beat Creed to death with his monstrous commie fists. Even Duke was screaming for the towel to be thrown in.
Rocky killed Creed. But that fight should have been stopped way before that, because it was obvious how it was going to end. Come on ref, get your head out of your butt.
Brown: I agree that the fight should have already been over. But, it should have been Drago being disqualified.
After the bell sounds for the first round, how many extra punches does Drago throw at Apollo before he finally goes back to his corner? Then, when the ref gets in Drago’s face to tell him to back off, Drago SHOVES him. Apollo would still be a bloody pulp and likely to have neurological damage, but he should still be alive.
So I’ll say this: The referee killed Apollo Creed. In the ring with negligence as his murder weapon.
Froemming: Nope, Rocky watched his best friend get pummeled and didn’t do his job. I get he wants to honor his friend’s wishes in letting the show go on, but at a certain point he should have thrown the towel and just dealt with a punch-drunk Creed being mad at him for a while. It’s called being an adult.
This scene also shows how cold-blooded Drago is. As Creed is flopping in the ring like a fish, Drago says “If he dies, he dies.” It still sends a shiver down my spine when I hear that. It is so brutal.
Brown: I like how Drago’s wife insists that her husband is not a killer for what happened to Apollo. Yet he drops a line like that. You may not be a killer, but you sure as hell sound like one.
With his former foe and friend now dead, Rocky feels like he needs to avenge his fallen comrade. So the fight is made between Rocky and Drago. Christmas day in Moscow. And Rocky says he’s not getting paid for the fight. Wait, what? No, you get ‘dem checks, Rocky.
Like any loving wife would, Adrian (Shire) wonders what Rocky is fighting for. She tells Rocky that he has nothing to gain from this. And she’s absolutely right. Rocky’s legacy is set. All he’s going to do by taking this fight is turn his brain into mush and train some tool by the name of Tommy Gunn. This is the only time I’ll reference “Rocky V.” I like to think that movie didn’t happen.
Rocky has some thinking to do in his Lamborghini, so here’s a music video to compensate for any actual plot or dialogue.
Froemming: I also like how Rocky has this big press conference telling the world he is going to fight Drago, but somehow forgets TO TELL HIS WIFE. This happens, folks. She comes home, and wonders why reporters are on her property (note to budding journalists out there: You are not allowed to do that) and he breaks the news to her.
Now we get into back-to-back montages, I swear this film is 40 percent montage. Which is OK, because it really speeds the movie along.
And Rocky doesn’t need a state-of-the-art training facility, he just needs a cabin in
northern Minnesota Russia to build himself up to fight a creature who can punch through brick walls.
Brown: OK, here are the montages this movie has:
- The opening with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”
- The Lambo ride.
- Beginning of training in Siberia (or whatever snowy part of the Soviet Union)
- “Hearts on Fire.”
And all these are five minutes, minimum. The one in the Lambo shows off bullet points of what happened in the first half-hour of the movie, and shows a bunch of important plot points of the first three movies. Really, every one of these montages should have the name/artist/label names in the bottom left corner like an old-school MTV music video.
And here I’ll remind you that the first movie of this series won best picture in the 1976 Academy Awards.
Froemming: I have to say I loved Paulie’s “Don’t Tread On Me” flag sewn into his jacket while in Russia. I get the patriotism aspect, but that was more confusing than showing pride for many reasons. Also, Paulie is mad because he doesn’t have TV or comic books. Russian is a cruel, cold and lonely place, Paulie.
Brown: They have this contrast where Rocky is training old-school with farm equipment through the waist-high snow while Drago looks like he’s training in the Death Star with all the technology. What’s that supposed to prove? Also, why is Rocky not sparring with anyone? I would think that would be an important factor in boxing training.
Froemming: So, just so we are on the same page here: Drago is killing those guys he is sparring with, right? He hits them, and gallons of blood flies out of their bodies. He is hitting at 2,150 psi at this time, which I’m pretty sure would kill anything standing in his way.
Brown: At least the sparring partners were wearing head gear. So, maybe they’re just paralyzed?
I’ve had a long-standing theory about Stallone movies past “Rocky II”: He only took roles to show how freakishly ripped he was and to stay that way. The Rambo movies, the Rocky movies, “Demolition Man,” etc. All there to showcase his muscles. And in this movie, he goes with the whole 80s Hulk Hogan WWF mantra of “Train, take your vitamins and say your prayers.” And like Hulk Hogan, Stallone doesn’t quite live up to that billing.
With that said, with our last training montage, we do get one of my favorite moments in cinema history:
I laugh so hard every single time I watch that. It’s so melodramatic.
Froemming: So, after spending time lifting rocks and running up mountains, Rocky is ready to take on Drago (whom we see is on steroids during the training montage). And we see the Russians booing Rocky (the flip side of the Americans booing Drago at the Creed fight) as Drago gets the Russian version of a James Brown-patriotic extravaganza introduction, which is a giant banner of his face along with Marx and Lenin. Because Russians have no money or something.
Brown: And although it’s not said directly, we get a visit in the fight from U.S.S.R. leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who must have just returned from doing the Cossack with Zangief.
Froemming: I wrote a note wondering where the goofy birthmark on his head was.
But the fight begins. And this is where I was more puzzled than by the robot. Drago is punching at 2,150 psi. One punch and Rocky is dead. Period. But nope, Rocky rolls with these punch equivalents of being hit by a car with no real problem. Then it gets sort of “pro wrestling” at times. It is insane.
Brown: What made me mad about this fight was Rocky just fought another overpowered fighter in Clubber Lang in “Rocky III” and beats him by blocking his punches and wearing out Lang. Against Drago, Rocky doesn’t block a damn thing. Did you forget how to block, dude? You shouldn’t have. Over the course of four movies, Rocky somehow gets smarter despite being a prize fighter for a decade.
I’m convinced that Rocky learned Wimp Lo’s “My face to your foot” fighting style from “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist.” Spoiler alert: It’s a terrible strategy. But even sledgehammer punches will not defeat Rocky’s resolve (even when they should destroy his face).
Froemming: This fight was nothing but haymakers. It makes for fun cinema, but unrealistic boxing.
But Rocky cuts Drago, showing that Drago is not an unstoppable killing machine. He is human. This gives Rocky resolve that he can win. And it goes for 15 brutal rounds. Again, Rocky would have died in the first round with the first few blows. The Creed/Drago fight was the only one that was somewhat realistic based on Drago’s strength.
Brown: Rocky is made of steel, though. And after 15 rounds, the pro-Drago crowd has started to cheer for Rocky. Here’s my question: Why? Yes, Drago is so strong it’s inhuman, but this is a guy with one professional fight to his name taking on a multi-time world champion. I get he’s older and isn’t the champ anymore, but is Rocky really that much of an underdog?
Froemming: It is also an unsanctioned fight, so it is a pointless fight to boot. Rocky at this point is not an underdog, Drago is. And I don’t believe the Russians would dare cheer Rocky, because if they did they probably would end up in some forced labor camp or dead by the government’s hands. But, because Drago is not wiping the floor with Rocky, his manager comes down and yells at him, which leads Drago to pick the guy up by the throat and throw him. I don’t know why, but I just love that part.
Brown: Rocky deserves to win the fight by virtue of Drago’s stupidity. Rocky got knocked down at least five times in this fight. All Drago had to do was keep his distance from Rocky in the final round but NOOOOOOOOO. Rocky gets the knockout victory in the final round. And now, it’s time to end the Cold War. Froemming, I’ll give you the lead on this part.
Froemming: Oh, you mean Rocky’s punch-drunk babbling about how boxing is better than war between the U.S.A and Soviet Union and how people can change?
People hating him, and he “didn’t like that much none either.” He says that. And a bunch of other baffling stuff. I want someone to splice the speech from the academic decathalon from “Billy Madison” into the end of that.
Brown: Hey now, the only movie speech that breaks down walls like this is Squeak’s speech atop the Malaka-Laka Balance Board of Trust from “Baseketball.” Rocky ended the Cold War. I don’t care what history books say. It was Rocky, not David Hasselhoff singing on top of the Berlin Wall.
Froemming: You have no argument from me on that. I’ve never seen “Rocky V,” but I assume it is about how his brain is mush now from Drago pounding it into jelly.
Brown: Oh, don’t worry. They retconned “Rocky V” in “Rocky Balboa” by saying that sometimes doctors are wrong. Like I said, “Rocky V” didn’t happen.
I’m starting to lose the Eye of the Tiger. Let’s wrap this one up.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: This is the most patriotic movie ever, so yes. Taking notes on it made me realize how irrelevant the plot is, but it’s ridiculous and fun. In terms of an actual movie, it’s probably the worst of the first four films. But, it’s the most fun in my opinion.
Froemming: Absolutely. Like I said earlier, it is not the best Rocky movie, but it is my personal favorite of those films.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: