Rocky IV, by Albert W. Vogt III

It was inevitable that I would run out of ways of introducing movies in the Rocky franchise.  Like many real-life athletes, they probably hung around for too long.  Their box office returns would say otherwise.  I mean, even Tom Brady won Super Bowls in his forties.  That does not change the fact that he is old, by athletic standards.  Then again, I suppose if you know what you are doing, you can keep on doing it seemingly indefinitely.  Like with Rocky III (1982), the key is finding some new way of motivating you.  Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bringing in a seventh.  During the 1980s, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and United States was reaching its cultural apotheosis, so why not make that a theme in Rocky IV (1985).  Hey, whatever gets you out of bed in the morning, series director and writer Sylvester Stallone.

As per usual by now, Rocky IV catches us up with recent events from the previous movie.  Robert “Rocky” Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) defeats James “Clubber” Lang (Mr. T) to reclaim the world heavyweight title.  He does so with the help of his former adversary, turned best friend, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).  Now that he is the champ once more, it is time to settle into retirement.  That probably would have been his fate had it not been for Russian amateur and Olympic gold medal boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) coming to the United States.  He has come to this country on a so-called good will tour.  He is also here to fight American fighters and test their strength in exhibition bouts.  The one with whom he really wants to face off with is Rocky.  The person who answers the call is Apollo.  He sees Ivan on television along with his Soviet handlers, all of them doubting the ability and resolve of American fighters, and he cannot take it.  Though it has been five years since he had stepped into the ring for a real match, he is eager to prove himself.  To get ready, he asks his friend Rocky to train him.  Rocky does not see any advantage in fighting the stronger, taller, and younger Soviet.  Rocky is convinced by Apollo’s resolve and agrees to be there for him.  Even still, all the way up until they are about to enter the arena, Rocky is recommending a different course of action.  The fight is a disaster, though Apollo will not allow Rocky to throw in the towel to end the fight.  Not doing so results in Apollo’s death.  Rocky feels partially responsible.  Not long after Apollo’s funeral, Rocky agrees to a match with Ivan.  This time, it is to take place in Russia and on Christmas Day.  The person who is not keen on Rocky going through with this bout is Adriana “Adrian” Balboa (Talia Shire), Rocky’s devoted wife.  Seeing what Apollo’s wife went through, all she can see is having to endure the same heart ache.  In short, she does not believe her husband can win.  Though they do not argue, Rocky feels this is something he has to do because being a fighter is who he is at the end of the day.  Hence, with his friend and brother-in-law Paulie Pennino (Burt Young) and trainer Tony “Duke” Evers (Tony Burton), they head to the Soviet Union to begin preparing for the fight.  Yet again, we are treated to another training montage, a mainstay of all these movies.  So far, none of them have lacked one, so why stop now, I guess.  With this one, however, there is a definite attempt to show the differences between East and West.  East, as represented by Ivan and the Soviet Union, uses a strict, scientist monitored training regimen, and steroids, despite earlier protesting that they are not being used.  Rocky asks that he and his team be given a home out in the middle of nowhere and decidedly less advanced equipment.  For example, Ivan runs up treadmills while Rocky scales mountains.  Yet, there is one thing missing.  If you have seen these movies or read my other reviews, you will note that something, or in this case someone, is Adrian.  Her showing up giving Rocky the added motivation he needs to get going is as inevitable in these movies as the sun rising.  Thus steeled for the coming brawl, he enters new territory, figuratively and literally, when the arena is uniformly against him.  He is used to crowds chanting his name and booing the other guy.  Being in the Soviet Union, it is the other way around.  The bout goes the full fifteen rounds.  Though Rocky is knocked down several times, he picks himself off the mat every time.  Regardless, because of the number of times he falls, he needs to knock out Ivan in order to win the match.  Unfortunately, he cannot do so, and he loses. . . .  Just kidding!  Of course he wins, and he wraps up the evening and the movie by making some kind of speech about how great it is to change.

And that is it with Rocky IV.  Being a shorter film makes it easier to watch and review.  The other thing is that there are so many montages.  They are a great way of moving a film along without the need to explaining everything through clunky dialog.  At the same time, I wonder how long it would be without them.  No matter.  The clear, overarching theme here is how all the steroids and technology in the world are nothing unless you have heart.  The implication is that the heart carries a strength to withstand anything.  This jives with my Catholic Faith because it is the heart where Jesus resides.  Further, since the film deals with the suffering that comes with the loss of a loved one, let us look at this through the lens of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.  To this end, Adrian makes a great point about learning to live with the pain of loss.  These events create wounds that can be healed, but the scars never really go away.  One of the Sorrowful Mysteries pertains to when Jesus is crowned with thorns.  It is meant to be a physical reminder of sin, just like a particular memory can bring us those pangs once more.  When I pray this mystery, I often ask for the courage to face challenges with Jesus on my lips no matter how painful they may be, inwardly or outwardly.  It is a repetition, much like training for a boxing match, that strengthens the bonds with God and allows us to carry on.

So, let us see here . . . Rocky IV means four down, five to go, although I think Rocky dies in the eighth one.  We shall see.  Also, the last three are about Apollo’s son Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), though Rocky becomes his mentor.  I do not know what else to tell you about these films other than they are nothing special.  That is not to say they are bad, just meh.


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