I don’t exactly remember the first time I experienced Rocky IV in my youth, or any film in the franchise for that matter. What I do know is that the entire series was a normalized staple in the VCR rotation in my VERY ITALIAN household and for all I know with my family, I was probably born during Rocky III‘s Eye of the Tiger montage playing in the background- I mean, that would be a pretty sweet way to enter this world. What I do remember however, is how this movie made me feel watching it not only as a kid, but as a grown adult as well that has faced underdog challenges throughout my thirty-something odd years on this planet. And hey, who hasn’t gone through some type of their own personal hell these days, eh?
Up until my later teenage years when you know, I could get a job, buy things on my own and all that wonderful jazz, the only copy I had had of Rocky IV was on a recorded VHS that held three films in this order: Back to the Future, Rocky IV, and A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge; of which we dubbed “the Glorious 1985 Film Saga”. Even better was knowing these filmed were taped over some sort of aerobics rock exercise videos that would glitch in-between each movie; which gave that Scotch homemade VHS some real 80s’ feel-goodness. It was pretty sweet.
Anyways, before I ramble on too much and get off-topic about my weird fetish for VHS recordings, lets steer into the magnificent yesterworld of Vince DiCola /John Cafferty montages , a rare bearded-Sly, and slave robots.
Oh and this really phenomenal James Brown number that is about as American as it gets that basically tell the Russian guests to lick their assholes. ‘MURICA.
The Rocky franchise is one of the very few series of films that holds a consistent theme of love and triumph that holds the attention of a variety of audiences; not specifying gender, age, or sexuality as all can easily relate to feeling like an underdog in all areas of life. However, Rocky IV keeps these themes WHILE adding another life lesson: CHANGE.
1985 begat a very tense period of years between America and the Soviet Union, and Sly had no bones about making his own statement using his beloved character Balboa and his feelings on the situation. The film is riddled with symbolism, metaphors, and well yes montages but hey those testosterone-filled songs help drive those points home. Take an example the exhibition match between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago that starts this whole damn mess. Creed represents the stubborn nature and sometimes ignorantly arrogant nature of America while Drago shadows the very cold and uncertainty ways about the Soviet Union. The two are destined to clash and so they do. With America coming out like a pufferfish so very sure of himself, only to get pummeled as you should never underestimate what your opponent could and will do to you. The boxing in this films no longer serves as a metaphor for “going the distance”. The athletic aspect in the film now rears into the horrifying world of a war between two powerhouse nations.
Drago is younger, stronger, and the most intimating opponent Rocky has faced yet. To beat him, Rocky is gonna have to change his approach. He has to work harder. Train harder. Give it every goddamn thing he has if he is to literally come out of this mess alive. The Soviet Union was formed in 1922 and while this film is set 63 years later, in territory terms that is fairly young. So what does the Rock do? He sends himself into the lion’s den (the heart of Moscow) to train in the most barbaric and simplistic of ways possible. All while growing a most excellent machismo man beard scruff. Facing harsh criticism, unwelcoming neighbors and being babysat by Russian nationals all along the way, Rocky devotes every second of the day and night to strengthen not only his physique, but his mind as well to focus on one thing and one thing only- sheer victory.
In regards to the final fight, the immanent theme of change begins as our American hero is booed all the way to the ring. The entrance is dark, dank, and smells of uncertainty. Whereas Drago’s entrance tells the same tale only with favorable crowd and a WAY more sinister feeling- we will definitely attribute Dicola’s Drago Suite to the anxiety in the room as we prepare for war.
As the fight progresses and the pair of soldiers are beating the ever-loving shit out of each other, the change begins. As Rocky our series underdog keeps taking the licks and getting back up, the communist crowd begins to favor the Italian Stallion and his perseverance. This of course, doesn’t sit well with the Russian officials overseeing the fight and one of Drago’s main
drug-dealers, erm, I mean overseers runs down to the ring to give him a good what-for. Drago ain’t having this shit and basically tells him to fuck off while throwing his little ass to the ground. Throughout the film, Drago is seen sort of like an object. A Russian robot slave with no authority over himself. This, is the turning of the tides in the film where he is no longer fighting for anyone but himself. However, too little too late as Rocky has the upper-hand with his unforgettable determination and gives him a good knock to the jaw, putting him out for good.
And then… the speech. The speech of change. A speech just as relevant now as it was then and will forever be so in this insane world that we live in under constant threat and fears of the unknown. That if we can band together to come to a consensus, regardless of our background, we can live peacefully and without regret.
As of writing this, Stallone is currently working on a grand director’s cut of this phenomenal piece of cinematic goodness. Of which, you bet your ass I’m keeping a close eye on for updates. In the meantime, happy anniversary to the greatest metaphorical montage films in American history!