If you're a fan of the Rocky movie series, you know two things for sure: Rocky IV was awesome, and Rocky V was not. Rocky V has just too little to do with previous iterations of the Rocky saga, too little of Rocky actually doing anything important with his fighting career, and frankly, too much slurred chatter care of Sylvester Stallone. But Rocky IV, now that was the swan song of the series (at least until "Rocky Balboa" was released in December 2006, but I haven't seen that one yet, so I can't judge that -- but rumour has it that it's a decent film). Rocky IV had everything you wanted in a film about the classic ring scuffler, Mr. Rocky Balboa himself. You have your staple fight against a seemingly impervious opponent, you have Rocky getting into a fight with his wife over fighting, you have extended scenes of Rocky training hard by running around and doing stuff with logs, you have a montage of classic moments from the previous films (actually, make that two), and you have former heavyweight champion and all-around Americana spokesperson Apollo Creed bitching about something boxing-related. I'd say this pretty much abides closely to the "ROCKY MOVIE CHECKLIST".
Plus you get Brigitte Nielsen! ...Hooray?
So what exactly ticks off Rocky this time around? No, it's not the return of Mr. T, wanting revenge in the ring and another pay check to get him through a tough rent-demanding season. It's the coming of a relatively silent Russian boxer, Ivan Drago, who seems to be surpassing the strength, endurance, and overall ability of the top ranking American fighters (with the help of science... and steroids)! So former heavyweight champion and Apollo Creed, with Rocky's assistance, sets up a showy exhibition match for charity against Drago, claiming a comeback for the aging boxer. However, Creed is overpowered and killed in the ring. Rocky later avenges the death of his friend by declaring a boxing match against Drago. Set in Russia on Christmas Day (December 25th, if you didn't know), this is touted as a fight between not men but nations, and is broadcast all over the world on that date. Prior to this, Rocky flies to a cold distant region in Russia to train; he is later encouraged to train even harder when his wife, Adrian, comes to give him words of encouragement. During the match itself, at first, Drago is deemed strong, perhaps too strong for the Italian Stallion to handle, but Rocky eventually proves that Drago is not as ferocious as initially thought and soon it simply becomes a pummeling match between the two until Drago is eventually knocked out in (go figure) the final round. This just goes to show that no matter how strong you are, eventually the mighty Balboa will prevail in the end! YEAH! *leaps into the air*
I'm not too big on extensive cinematography and all that industry malarky. No, I'm just watching movies and asking myself whether I think they are entertaining productions or whether there is so much goofiness happening on screen that my time would be better spent crouching naked in a field and making friends within the toad community. Thankfully in this case, the former scenario is much more true. Indeed, this is quite a film to behold. It's not as slow as the first couple of iterations in the series as there's a more compacted storyline within the movie's brief time period (the movie, sans credit roll, is under 90 minutes), and that's great. The training scenes are interesting (and lengthy) as usual, and of course, the final fight scene is nothing more than spectacular and realistic-looking, as it should be, considering that much of the boxing is authentic. (Dolph Lundgren, the actor portraying Ivan Drago, was rumoured to have been rather brutal with his punches during filming. Those rumours could be true -- Stallone even said he had to be hospitalized for over a week!) Still, that's not to say that this film is perfect. The scene where Apollo Creed enters the ring with flashing lights surrounding him while James Brown sings his jazzy tune (to the disapproval of Ivan Drago) is quite astonishing; I swear this is the biggest in-your-face annoyance you'll find of over-Americana. I know this scene is annoying on purpose, but there's something unsettling about flaunting your patriotism like this. Well, I suppose after all that jazz, Apollo deserved to get creamed in the ring, a statement on relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. I may also criticize the character of Paulie Pannino, Rocky's brother-in-law, who keeps appearing in these Rocky films but doesn't yet have a purpose. Although he serves as more of a comic relief in this film, he may have been better off on the cutting room floor.
I mentioned something about Russian-American relations (which I'll just expand to worldwide relations in general), and this is not more apparent than in Rocky's final speech after defeating Drago in the ring: "If I can change, and you can change, then everyone can change!" This is likely the most powerful social statement in the Rocky series, as there is clearly a more universal undertone to this movie than merely two guys from across the globe battling it out to see who is the superior boxer. Indeed, this movie is sending us the message that nations should be able to change their ways of thinking and communicating instead of hating nations who operate in different ways. That's nice, isn't it?
So if you're looking for a really good boxing-based film, there's no better franchise to look for than the Rocky films. But if you simply must watch only one (for whatever reason, I don't know), I will strongly lean towards this one. It has everything that a Rocky fan is looking for, and still delivers on the all-important legendary bout scene near the end (plus all the blood on their faces will not disappoint you either). Just... try not to spend too much time trying to decipher what Sylvester Stallone is trying to say; it can be sometimes quite taxing on the brain.
P.S. If you're a fan of Ivan Drago (and who isn't a fan of quiet Russian goliaths?), you may want to have a little fun and check out this fan-made Flash beat-em-up game set around Ivan Drago's need to, um, kill Americans and all that. It's called "Ivan Drago - Justice Enforcer". It's sort of fun, and the enemies have dumb names like Sporto McJockitch! How can it fail? Check it out by clicking here!