Monday, May 19, 2014

Movie Review #15: Rocky IV

About ten years ago someone sat me down and made me watch through the first three Rocky movies. (At least, I think I watched Rocky III. I don't really remember the fight itself.) We didn't make it to the fourth movie, though, so that was the extent of my Rocky experience until now. Having watched The Running Man, though, I needed balance my Arnold with some Sly. Rocky IV came up on my Netflix account, so here we go.

Short review: the Rocky formula is used to tell a story that addresses the Cold War in classic 80s fashion. Its substance is a bit thin, but if you want to be inspired to get back into a workout routine this movie will do the trick.

A Russian boxer comes to America looking for an exhibition match against the US's best fighters. Former champion Apollo Creed rises to the call, but it ends in tragedy, as the Russian boxer seems invincible.

Rocky decides to face the Russians to avenge his old friend.


When the movie originally came out in the 80s it probably worked very well as pro-American propaganda. Three decades later, though, I think the movie actually holds up. The movie is not as pro-American as it seems, as far as I can tell.

The movie is ostensibly about how people can change. At the beginning, Apollo Creed argues that people are what they are, and if they ever stop being what they are then they become nothing. Rocky works through this for most of the movie, accepting Apollo's words in the fact of Apollo's death. However, after getting punched in the head a hundred times or so by an insanely strong Russian, Rocky starts to question that idea, leading to his speech at the end of the fight.

Of course, I'm 100% behind the idea that people can change.

Interestingly, I found myself really connecting more to Ivan Drago than the Americans at the beginning, and it made me sympathetic to him for the rest of the movie. Clearly the Americans were just incredibly obnoxious to the Russians the entire time they were in the country and, really, that's something that hasn't changed a whole lot in real life since then. It has changed for the better, but it's a slow change and gradual.

And it seemed like this was an intentional focus on Stallone's part. It was a contrast he wanted to make clear: Americans are obnoxious, Soviets are totalitarian, and we both feel like our methods make us superior. The movie suggests that, really, we both have our problems, and we can't ignore them. We are neither of us superior, which I think is a good perspective to have on most issues.

In the end, Rocky defeats Drago not because he's an American with the support of America behind him (he trains in Russia, and he actually has to give up his title in order to fight Drago, since the American Boxing League refuses to approve the bout), but because he's just one determined person who worked hard for his victory.

In the meantime, you've got a series of music videos designed to tell the story without the need for much dialogue, which seems a bit cheap on the surface but, really, most of what Rocky is dealing with is an internal struggle, and not everybody (especially people with Rocky's eloquence) feels the need to talk out their problems. I can certainly relate to the idea of working through problems silently, on my own, rather than pulling other people into my struggles.

My only real complaint about the movie is one short scene that, if it was removed, would have save the movie from being a propaganda piece: the scene where they show Drago clearly being injected with steroids. If it had turned out that Drago was, in fact, as strong as he was due to training, that would have shown that the Russians are just as dedicated to working hard as Americans are. However, by showing the Russians as cheaters, it sort of cheapens the whole point of being the same.

That said, if I ignore that scene, the movie becomes a inspiring movie that subtly questions American exceptionalism.

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