In no sane world does Rocky IV get more than 2 stars…
Oh sure, a less gritty, more blockbuster approach to “Robert” Balboa’s boxing career had already been established in the magnificently homoerotic Rocky III (Roman numerals ONLY for this franchice) but THIS instalment is only a mere pube hair from being as gritty and realistic as a Tom And Jerry cartoon.
The bombastic insanity of Rocky IV has been well documented and expressed upon – be it scummy uncle Paulie’s robot butler to Rocky training by running up the sheer face of a mountain and bellowing his opponent’s name at the peak like a Norse God; but thankfully two major things count in this movie’s favour:
1) We don’t live in a sane world.
2) Rocky IV is an pure and utter masterpiece of 80’s excess.
Up until this point all the films in the series had basic stories to add needed traction and drama to the tale of a hapless mook who finds himself at the top of the heap in the world of professional boxing. The first was Rocky’s shot at the big time, plucked from obscurity and thrust into a huge new world while he awkwardly courts a shy girl he loves, the second was a chance at a rematch and some self respect as his wife struggled with childbirth. The third was Rocky losing his title and beloved trainer, the gravel voiced Mickey, and learning to climb back with the help of his one time rival, but the fourth? The fourth doesn’t waste it’s time with such “minor” trivialities as plot and character development. Not when there’s montages to be had…Standing tall as one of the most painfully obvious and blatantly childlike commentaries of The Cold War ever conceived (you couldn’t even call it a metaphor, not with two boxing gloves with American and Russian flags on them colliding and exploding in the title card), Rocky IV is less a story, more a string of montages strung together by characters briefly explaining what the next montage is going to be about. Need a scene where Rocky laments a lost friend? Montage. Need a scene to recap an established plot point? Montage. Need a training montage? Fuck it, we’ll have TWO montages back to back. Acting, writing, directing triple threat Sylvester Stallone clearly has no time for subtlety. He doesn’t seem to have time for the bare bones of a plot either as the conceit for Rocky’s round IV is slimmer than Doug Jones with chronic diarrea.
Mountainous communist Ivan Drago is being touted by his government as the world’s greatest athlete, ex world title holder Apollo Creed wants to dispute this by coming out of retirement and punching him really, really hard. Instead, with best buddy Balboa in his corner and after an inadvisable pre-match song and dance routine with James Brown, Creed gets beaten to death in the ring. Before you can say “Creed Prequel”, Rocky bogs off to mother Russia to train with rocks, logs and shit, grows a rage-beard that would gain respect from Kurt Russell and prepares for the toughest fight of his life – since the last one. If any of that feels familiar, it’s because Stallone has decided to wrap that awkward 80’s template, the dead-near-retired-black-best-friend-revenge-thriller in a the red, white and blue robes of a gloriously overblown boxing movie.
And yet, despite Stallone writing, directing and editing with all the restraint of a seven year old up past his bed time and super high on Mountain Dew, something truly magical happens.
Stripped of nuance, logic, or anything even remotely approaching a sevicable character arc, Rocky transmogrifies into an extension of it’s star’s ego and becomes a straight shot of pure cinema injected, adrenalin style, directly into the heart. The final bout to knock the other guy out is a tour de force of pulse pounding cinematic combat with adrenalin and excitement spraying everywhere like sweat and blood-flecked drool with every skull-rattling punch – it’s quite simply one of the greatest on-screen fights of our time, investing us utterly in it’s two, hamburger faced opponents despite being as grounded and down to earth as something you’d see in The Matrix.
Full credit to Stallone who, despite the fact that Rocky is now richer than a czar with a winning lottery ticket and featuring a frame that boasts more muscles than a WWE locker room, still, somehow keeps his greatest creation relatable and loveable. Additional points to composer Vince Dicola (he of Transformers: The Movie) for his addictively bombastic and triumphant score that perfectly matches the absurd, punch-happy shenanigans unfolding on the screen.
Simply put, you don’t watch Rocky IV with your brain, you watch it with your heart, cheering, yelling, punching the air, utterly drunk on emotion as the cinematic combatants pound each others cartilage into oblivion for our amusement and on top of all that – it’s even a Christmas movie to boot…
It’s not the best Rocky or even the smartest Rocky, but taken purely on it’s own merits, this ludicrous movie, with a heart the size of Soviet Russia, easily goes the distance.