Rocky IV Part 3 (1985)

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By the way, and call me pedantic, but bringing over an amateur fighter and beating a loudmouthed American former heavyweight champion would indeed be a propaganda coup of a sort. Bringing that same fighter over to beat this universe’s beloved analogue to Muhammad Ali to death in the ring during what was, after all, merely an exhibition match…not so much. Good job, Ivan.

Even so, with Creed’s corpse still flopping around on the canvas, the ring announcer tastefully pauses to declare Drago the winner, and to drape him over him the Soviet flag.* Drago takes the opportunity to stand and boast directly over the bloody, prone form of his opponent. By the way, if Drago hasn’t actually killed Creed by this point, Rocky sure has. He spends the entire scene cradling the prostrate Apollo’s head in the crook of his arm, making sure that Creed’s spine gets a very active workout before the EMTs arrive.

[*I guess this is to excuse Rocky later in the movie when, after beating Drago—oops, sorry—he is also literally wrapped in the American flag. Again, call me a stick-up-his-butt spoilsport, but it’s not really good flag etiquette to actually wrap Old Glory around one’s sweaty, bleeding form. The national colors are not a fashion statement.]

The scene ends, inevitably, with a determined Rocky and the icily-malign Drago exchanging The Look. You know the one I mean. And…freeze-frame. If you’re formulating a Rocky movie drinking game, make sure to put freeze-frames on the list.

Cut to the second funeral service Rocky has attended in the span of two movies. He is giving the eulogy, and of course it’s stumbling and awkward yet wise. By the way, I’m not up on my funeral Emily Post, but should one wear sunglasses when standing by the grave and delivering the eulogy? In any case, he finishes, and drapes Apollo’s world championship belt over the coffin, and everyone marches sadly away. In frickin’ slo-mo. Apparently Stallone, who directed this as well as Rocky II and III, had aspirations to become to freeze-frames and slow motion what Jesus Franco is to the Unnecessary Zoom Shot.

As mentioned previously, Rocky knows what a man’s gotta do. Not wasting any time—at least right here—we immediately learn that he and Drago have been scheduled to fight one another. Again, I don’t want to be a party pooper, but I can’t believe this incident didn’t become a gigantic public relations fiasco for the Soviets. Drago shouldn’t be fighting Balboa, he should be stationed with an army unit in Siberia, after being stripped of his tinny Soviet car and expansive three room apartment.

In an all-too-faint nod to ‘reality,’ we are told that the American boxing authorities will not sanction the fight. In order to take part in it, Rocky must first surrender his championship. We learn this and other details via another press conference, the audio of which accompanies a parade of dummied-up magazine covers and interior articles.

Just in case the Soviets aren’t yet quite cartoonishly unsympathetic enough (and this is me talking, remember), they now toss in a soupcon of Nazi flavoring into the mix. Koloff again boasts that Drago is unbeatable, opining that Rocky has “not the size or the endurance or the genetics to win.” Hmm, I guess it’s a good thing the Soviet Union went down when it did, since it seems like they were about to join in on the old Master Race sweepstakes.

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with Koloff when he notes, “It’s physically impossible for this little man to win.” Well, it certainly is hard to believe, in any case. It was difficult to swallow back when Stallone was matched against Mr. T, much less Dolph Lundgren. Officially, Lundgren is seven inches taller than Stallone; and as noted, Stallone’s ‘official’ height is probably two inches too generous. And if Rocky weighs in at the same svelte 191 pounds he did last time, Lundgren would outweigh him by seventy pounds. All in all, it’s a bit much to swallow.

Meanwhile, the thudding scripted idiocies continue. To the shock of reporters, Rocky announces he will make zero money for the fight. Because, you know, that’s not what it’s about. And the fight is set to take place on December 25th. (!!) Needless to say, this was stipulated by the Godless commies. The gasps are even louder when Rocky announces that the fight will take place in Mother Russia itself. Because, you know, Ivan needs every possible advantage if we’re to believe he could last even a minute in the ring with Our Rocky.

Meanwhile, the boosterish American press corps is shown literally jeering each statement of every Russian on the panel. This had me wondering if anyone connected with the film had ever seen a real-life press event during this period. It’s been a long time, if ever, since American reporters wore the flag on their sleeves like this. (Right after I wrote this, Ludmilla confronts the press on this issue, and the assembled reporters actually rise to their feet to issue catcalls and point their fingers at her and so on. Uhm, yeah.)

Things continue on in this vein, as when Koloff slurs the U.S. government and is loudly booed by the press (!). Here Paulie (not exactly the advocate for the American people I’d have picked, but there you go), responds by pointing out that the Commies are even then having to contain their own people through the use of machine gun-guarded concrete walls, a point that is sort of hard to argue with. Koloff replies that the beating of the U.S.’s “little champion” will expose once and for all “how pathetically weak your society has become!”

And let’s admit it, he’s right. No American has ever really been able to look a Japanese person in the eye since that Kobayashi dude beat us in the Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Easting Contest. And I don’t mean just because those guys are so short.

In any case, having acted in a manner that would make Boris Badenov blush, Koloff and the Dragos take their leave. Then we cut to later, as a lie of reporters (‘lie’ is the proper collective noun for a group of reporters, isn’t it?) swarms around Adrian, badgering her with questions. I can’t say the vulture-like activity of the press is overmuch exaggerated, but it’s much more a part of things here than in the previous Rocky movies. It makes me wonder if Stallone had had his own distasteful run-ins with the press and was getting a little payback. In any case, Adrian runs inside, shouting that she knows nothing about any fight or going to Russia or anything of that nature.

Late that night, a subdued Rocky again arrives home in his sports car. Adrian is waiting, and we inevitably get our next “I don’t want you to fight him!” scene. “I just gotta do what I gotta do,” he actually replies, which frankly I thought a little on the nose. Rocky declares he’s a fighter, that’s what he is, but the big moment comes when a panicked, tearful Adrian shouts “YOU CAN’T WIN!”

Rocky momentarily looks up in shock at this apparent betrayal. Frankly, I found that a bit weird, since the entire climax of the first movie was predicated on Rocky’s own admittance that he couldn’t beat Apollo. Of course, that was ‘Real Rocky,’ and now the series centers on ‘Comic Book Rocky,’ who admittedly is a different animal altogether.

“Maybe I can’t beat him,” Rocky agrees. “But to beat me, he’s going to have to kill me.” (Yeah, I’m sure that what your wife wanted to hear.) “And to kill me, he’s gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, he’s got to be willing to die himself.” Actually, to kill you I think he just has to be younger and massively bigger than you. Which, you know, he is.

Needless to say, I found the thrust of this speech a tad dubious, and the syrupy music that accompanies it didn’t helping matters much. Besides, if there was ever a movie where the audience knew without doubt that the hero would end up winning, this is it. So this entire scene is pointless and basically just eating up time.

A dejected yet determined Rocky wanders back out to his car, and drives away. He then tools around, staring into space (in not, seemingly, the road in front of him) to the thundering beat of another would-be hit pop song. This scene is entirely a music video, consisting of a montage of shots featuring Rocky, Rocky’s car (Headlights open! Exhaust erupts from tailpipe!), flash-lit shock cuts of a monstrous-looking Drago looming forward in his boxing gear, flashbacks of Drago killing Apollo (that’s why Rocky is fighting…. remember?), and finally a whole buttload of clips from the previous three movies. I have to say, showing a bunch of clips from the first movie in particular really isn’t doing this one any favors.

Rocky and Apollo.  They had joy...they had fun...they had seasons in the sun...

The song itself is extremely generic ’80s pop stuff with a thundering Pat Benatar-esque drum machine beat. Apparently it’s called “No Easy Way Out,” as sung by one Robert Tepper. I have to say, the series’ luck with launching memorable pop songs definitely came up dry here. Also, this whole sequence is so nakedly a complete-in-itself promotional music video cut, directly into the middle of the actual movie, that it’s a little embarrassing.

For presumed comic relief, Paulie is joining Rocky on his trip to Russia. I have to say, one of the film’s most annoying aspects is the all too abrupt tonal shifts, which Stallone is not nearly good enough as either a director or screenwriter to pull off. Watching this film is like listening to someone shift from first gear right into fourth. One moment’s we’re watching Rocky’s best friend get killed, and then the next well cut to the moronic Comedy Relief Robot. (Again, what the hell is that thing doing in this movie? Every time I see it I want to kick something.)

Also, it’s a little late in the game to turn the historically mean, angry and bitter Paulie into a lovable comic curmudgeon, although apparently that was Stallone’s intent this time around. So as Paulie tosses a garish-looking plaid suitcase into the limo—Ha! He’s got bad taste in luggage!—we also get a wacky sendoff from Paulie’s distraught robotic lover. “Did you pack your toothbrush?” ‘she’ worries. “You know how tobacco stains your teeth.” Yeah, probably in the same way in which that damn robot has stained my mind. Do they have a brush for that? DO YOU?!!

“Hey, stop busting my chops,” Paulie ‘comically’ retorts. At this, the Robot turns ‘her’ ‘nose’ skyward. “I’m going to have her wires tied when I get back,” Paulie smirks to the driver. Wait…”wires tied”? But that sounds like…ewwwww!! Damn you, movie! Damn you!!!

Meanwhile, Rocky is having a purportedly heartwarming / heart wrenching farewell scene with a pajama-clad Rocky Jr. This sequence is no great shakes, but since the Robot was offscreen, I wasn’t feeling that judgmental about it. At least that was true until Rocky delivered a big long speech in which he confessed that sometimes even he gets a little scared, all while accompanied by music apparently rejected for an NBC “The More You Know” segment for being ‘too treacly.’

Paulie finally calls out, and Rocky takes his leave, but not before pausing for a dramatic, “Oh, look, there’s Sad Adrian up in that window there” moment. However, Rocky’s not even in the car before the sad arrangement of “Gonna Fly Now” flips to a pounding rock beat. OK, dudes, let’s go kick some Russian ass!!

From the sound of this song, which if I counted correctly was the film’s 87th, it’s effort from Survivor, although here the second time definitely ain’t the charm. In any case, we soon see a plane landing on a remote airstrip in Russia. At least I’m assuming this is Russia, since it looks bleak, is snowing, and the armed soldiers walking all over the place are wearing those furry hats.

Paulie and Rocky emerge from the plane, as well as the guy who has played Apollo’s manager in all four movies. Man, he must have loved hearing each time that they were making another Rocky movie. In any case, here the Survivor song helpfully helps clue us in on what’s happening: “Two worlds collide, rival nations…. Is it East or West, or man against man, can any nation stand alone….” Ah, now I get it. Thank you, Survivor!

A guy in a suit (presumably a KGB agent, which is so obvious they don’t even bother commenting on it) drives up and tells them to pile in. They are to be taken to their quarters, but he warns it will be a long ride. Now, earlier they had mentioned that the Russians had promised Rocky that they would furnish training facilities. Needless to say, they try to cheat by dropping Balboa & Co. off at a snowy, remote, rustic old farmhouse, complete with outdoor water pump, wood stove and the like.

Here, of course, the rascally Russians are outthinking themselves. They have completely forgotten the Scuzziest Gym Rule™. This is a Rocky movie, after all, and so there’s no better ‘gym’ they could have given Rocky to train in, except maybe one up on the moon. Let’s recount. In order to beat Apollo, Rocky worked out at Mickey’s dilapidated gym. Then Rocky faced Clubber Lang. This more robust threat necessitated a trip out to Los Angeles to Apollo Creed’s old gym, which proved a decaying slum hellhole that made Mickey’s place seem like the Trump Towers.

Now, however, Rocky doesn’t even have an actual gym! They just gave him an isolated and primitive farmstead, and a collection of rusting farm equipment with which to train. Good grief, he’s going to be able to outbox Godzilla after this. As if that weren’t advantage enough, poor Drago is training in an ultra-modern facility with the Super Science Squad all doing their thing. That guy doesn’t stand a chance!

Here we learn that the whole farm thing is not, as I had suspected, a dastardly commie plot. Instead, it prove to be exactly what Rocky requested. (Although the Soviets seem gleeful that this is so.) Of course, Balboa of all people understands the power of the Scuzziest Gym Rule™. Take that Ivan! (The generic ‘Ivan,’ not Drago.) Checkmate, tovarich!

They also mention that Our Hero will be assigned two, uhm, chaperones. “Where you go, they go,” KGB Guy smirks. Oh, boy, get ready for a hilarious gag where Super-Training Rocky with Kung-Fu Grip goes racing through the snowy mountain steppes, as his handlers collapse wheezing to the ground behind him. [Future Ken: Almost, but not quite. Close enough, though.] Meanwhile, Paulie bitches about the lack of TV and then flounders in the snow. It’s funny.

Later we see a dozing Paulie listening to the Chipmonks Christmas Album—Oh, that Paulie!—while Apollo’s Guy beats the farm owner at chess. Meanwhile, upstairs Rocky is adorning his mirror with photos, another nod to the first film. Apollo’s Guy then comes up to swear fealty to Our Hero.

“Apollo was like my son,” he confides. “I raised him. And when he died, part of me died. But now you’re the one. You’re the one that’s gonna keep his spirit alive. You’re the one that’s gonna make sure he didn’t die for nothing. Now, you’re going to have to go through hell, worse than any nightmare that you ever dreamed. But in the end, I know you’ll be the one standing. You know what you gotta do. Do it.”

Wow, this guy isn’t just good at chess, he’s a freakin’ world class savant at Clichés, the goofy game for trite-y trope-sters.

Oh, and the guy’s name is Duke. Even though he was in all four films, and I’ve just recently plowed through them all, it wasn’t until now that I caught his name. I’ve not saying they didn’t mention it once or twice, but if they did, it passed by me. Anyway, Duke leaves, and we get a cranky, reverberating Neil Young guitar note. Then Rocky looks at the picture of Drago he’s posted on his mirror. Right under the one of his kid. Yeah, that’s not weird. (On the other hand, at least he doesn’t have a picture of the Robot.)

As noted before, as much of a general suckfest as this movie is, it has a couple of dynamite scenes in it. One is the James Brown number, the other is the Obligatory Rocky Training Scene™. These are always a highlight of the films because, and say what you will about Stallone’s limited thespic talents, he knew his career rested on his utterly ripped physique. (Moreso as the ’80s rolled along, naturally.)

One doesn’t get a body like that without torturous daily workout sessions, and Stallone brings all that insane, pain-drenched focus to these sequences. Watching Stallone train at this point of his life is like watching Fred Astaire dance. You just sit there staring in wonderment that the human body should even be capable of crap like that. Adding to our pleasure here is the driving music that accompanies the sequence, which frequently flirts with sounding just like the soaring, self-parodying fanfare from Europe’s “Final Countdown.”

Our Hero starts slow, getting up at dawn to jog down the farm’s dirt road as the handlers’ car drives along right behind. You know, we never see those guys actually in the house, yet they’re always in their car whenever Rocky sticks his nose outside. Are they actually living in the car? And it’s not like there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts or anything nearby.

Meanwhile, we of course also cut away to watch Drago train, surrounded by the sort of equipment and control panels one usually sees in a futuristic spaceship movie. Soon we get a series of mirror images. Drago uses a super-stair climber, Rocky jogs through knee-high snow. (Man, that’s just a bitch.) Drago runs on a padded indoor track, Rocky runs through a snowy mountain stream. Drago uses high tech resistance equipment to train his muscles, Rocky stops to help a farmer push his trapped horse and cart (!) out of a snow bank.

So on and so on. Rocky trains on a weathered old speed bag. Rocky saws wood for the farm with a rusty old saw. Drago lifts expensive weights, Rocky tosses large rocks around. Of course, he’s also doing all this in the freezing weather and snow, pushing himself past the point of exhaustion. Drago spars, Rocky chops down trees. Drago’s sparring partner falls (in slo-mo), Rocky’s towering tree falls (in slo-mo). Get it?

Drago fails to match Rocky's dogged training regimen.  [Another reason I don't like this movie?  Too mush-y.]

Still, if nothing else, this sequence illustrates why every championship fighter in history has trained in a ramshackle working farm…

Oh.

At one point, Rocky is seen running through the deep snow. A log is balanced on his shoulders, his arms looped behind and around it. He stumbles, and one can only wince a bit at such a patently obvious, not to mention grossly egomaniacal, appropriation of Christ imagery. In the end, Rocky has trained so hard and diligently that he now sports a neatly trimmed little beard. At this point, he is rewarded when he returns to the farmhouse and finds Adrian waiting for him. What, you thought she wouldn’t be on hand to rush into Rocky’s arms right after his big victory? (Oops, sorry.)

“I couldn’t stay away,” she says as they cautiously approach one another. Meanwhile, I was thinking she probably couldn’t get any closer even if she wanted to. Rocky’s been training in that same leather jacket, knit cap and, if I’m not mistaken, pants for this entire time. That dude’s gotta be rank. Even so, they embrace. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

Then we get another training montage with even crappier ’80s synth pop, and I have to admit, I was in hog heaven. Now personally I think this might have been even more awesomer backed by Eric Clapton’s “It’s In The Way That You Use It,” or maybe the Fabulous Thunderbird’s “Tuff Enuff,” but still. This is the sequence where Stallone really goes to town, and it’s incredibly cheesy and utterly, fabulously marvelous all at the same time. Too bad they eventually go back to the movie. (Also, by the end of this second montage, Rocky looks less muscular and fit, as he used did, and instead freakishly cut and overly well-defined. Eventually his overly stretched skin seems like it can barely contain his ropey tendons and whatnot.)

Rocky pursues his 'lofty' goals.

Meanwhile, though, Drago has his Punch Force Register count up to 2,150 psi, or over three times that of the “average heavyweight fighter.” Still though, he’s obviously hopelessly outclassed. We haven’t seen him lift a single rock or cut down even one tree. Plus we finally see that they are, in fact, shooting him up with steroids. So, you know, there’s no way he’s going to win now.

By the way, Stallone has his classic arms-thrusting-triumphantly-upward climatic training moment, not at the top of some paltry museum steps, but on some an actual steppes. That’s right, he literally runs up to the top of a mountain. And just to really throw any sense of dramatic proportion completely out the window, he then lets loose with a positively Shatner-esque “DRAAAA-GOOOO!” Man, they just don’t make complete and utter crap like that anymore.

We cut to the arena, and the camera quickly showcases a huge hammer & sickle wall mounting and gigantic banners of Lenin and Marx. Commentators from the (product placement!) USA Network are on hand to televise the event, “which promises to be the most-watched event in boxing history.” As well, press contingents from nearly every nation are on hand to see Russia gain this devastating propaganda victory. Following this line of thinking, I guess it was the Miracle on Ice that really won us the Cold War.

The scene is naturally the opposite of the Creed fight, with the crowd now waving little red CCCP flags and rooting, obviously, for Drago. The event is such a big deal that the place is packed with high-ranking military members, as well as the entire Politburo (!!) and a look-alike actor obviously meant to represent Mikhail Gorbachev (!!!), although they forgo the wine-stained forehead, presumably in the interest of plausible deniability.

Downstairs, Rocky is in near seclusion in his dressing room, joined only by Adrian, Paulie and Duke. Oh, and the two stone faced military guards out in the hall, who are watching them through a glass wall. They hear the crowd shouting “Drago! Drago! Drago!” and react as if this were ominous, despite the fact that this is pretty much just the exact reverse of how the American crowd acted during the Las Vegas bout.

Rocky pauses to kneel and pray before the fight. This takes place in each film, and while it’s weirdly unusual to see a character praying in an American film (especially when he’s not a heavily sweating serial killer flagellating himself before murdering his next prostitute), the increased artificially and pandering of the series kind of even makes this leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. It wasn’t helping any to have Paulie wandering around, himself literally wrapped in a large American flag. Again, that’s not how one properly honors the either the flag or the U.S. He pretty much wanders around draped in this for the rest of the movie, and each time I saw it I kind of gritted my teeth.

Meanwhile, they pause, for very little good reason (other than, I suppose, in acknowledgement that this might have been the last Rocky movie) to have Paulie tearfully confess his faults and apologize to Rocky for his behavior over the years and to finally tell him what a great guy he’s always been. This is the sort of kitsch moment that is either going to fill your eyes with tears, or your mouth with vomit. You can put me in the latter group.

This completes Paulie’s rehabilitation from being a genuine, if therefore somewhat interesting, selfish asshole to a lovably cranky he-doesn’t-really-mean-it Oscar the Grouch sort of fellow. Aside from child-proofing this established character, the scene also nauseatingly provides the opportunity for an encomium on Our Hero’s greatness. (It’s weird how much more often you get these kind of scenes in movies which are also written and / or directed by the guy playing the main character.)

“I know sometimes I act stupid, and I say stupid things,” Paulie admits. “But you kept me around when other people would have said ‘Drop that bum.’ You give me respect. You know, it’s hard for me to say these kind of things, because that ain’t my way, but if I could just unzip myself and step out and be someone else, I’d want to be you. You’re all heart, Rock.” Then he leans over—still wearing the flag like a shawl—and gives Rocky a smooch on the cheek.

Like I said, I’m sure this really worked for a lot of people, and I’m not going to rag on them for it. I can’t with complete confidence say my disdain for the scene (and much of the rest of the movie) isn’t at least partly informed by my own cynicism. What I find hopelessly mawkish and artistically strained, many others obviously find touching, and I’ll admit that. On the other hand, I can well up while watching the corniest junk, so it’s not like I’m some robotically sneering hipster who snarks at any display of positive human emotion.

The fact is, I just don’t buy Paulie’s sudden conversion. This is even so when recognizing the fact that Rocky is, supposedly, quite possibly walking to his own death here. Instead, it strikes me like another of Stallone’s increasingly shameless attempts to pander to the worst instincts of his audience. There’s a reek of opportunism present throughout this entire film, abetted by the ego-massaging of having a character proclaim at length upon the greatness of the actor’s alter-ego, that just rubs me the wrong way.

Rocky enters the arena, and as Drago was in Las Vegas, is roundly booed. Rocky, however, must approach the ring on foot, all while enduring a gauntlet of catcalls.* “We knew he wouldn’t be popular,” one broadcaster gulps, “but this borders on pure hatred!” Uhm, OK. Next they report on Rocky’s amazing self-possession. “Rocky’s face is absolutely like stone!” he exclaims. I don’t know why he finds this so remarkable, given that Rocky is played by Sylvester Stallone.

[*Again, from a PR standpoint, does it really help the Soviet Union’s reputation to have the crowd be seen heaping abuse on a visiting athlete? This is another case where the filmmakers didn’t really think any of this through, or more likely, just didn’t care.]

We cut back to the home front for a second, to see young Rocky Jr. and two of his friends watching the match on TV. “That’s my dad!” Rocky Jr. shouts. Well, duh. Standing behind them, and apparently assigned with caring for Rocky in his parents’ absence (given the lack of any visible adult presence), is the Friggin’ Robot—there’s no escape!—who is currently rigged out in a Santa suit, complete with beard. It’s also wearing little boxing gloves on its ‘arms’. Have I mentioned that I really hate that Robot?

Back to the arena. “Listen to the crowd!” one commentator says. “It sounds insane!” Uhm, OK. Then the lights dim (much like the script) and a bank of blinding illumination erupts from a hallway. “Ivan Drago,” the reporter explains—he’s the guy Rocky’s fighting, you know—”a man with an entire country in his corner.” In case you’re not getting the point, it’s that Rocky is the underdog here. I know, it’s quite a change of pace for him.

And again, I’m not sure why Rocky’s situation here is all that much different than that faced by Drago in Las Vegas, when the hall was equally behind Apollo and the latter had “an entire country in his corner.” Of course, Rocky isn’t a dirty commie, so there is that.

Drago marches out, amidst a processional that includes torchbearers. (!) The commentators pause to explain that Drago, too, looks, like, incredibly focused and stuff, which I guess is rare before a championship boxing blood match. “He’s like a volcano just waiting to erupt!” one vapors. Well, heavens to Murgatroyd! Ethel, bar the door.

Then, at a distance and with lighting that I think would make this completely impossible, the two men lock eyes and give each other Steely Warrior Looks. (Why, yes, in slo-mo. How did you guess?) Then Drago enters the ring, and bows to Premiere Gorbafaux, and the fighters remove their robes. Rocky, needless to say, is wearing red, white and blue trunks; Drago red and gold. See, they each represent their country. Are you getting that?

They begin to play the Soviet national anthem (brrr!), and everyone sings and salutes. This all seems pretty normal, until a gigantic, wall-covering crimson banner of a brawny-chested Drago, flanked by golden hammer and sickle designed, is raised into view. I can’t say that kind of iconography was off the mark in the Soviet Union, almost most of it featured Uncle Joe. (I wonder if Lundgren was able to keep any of this stuff. How weird, really.) Meanwhile, Rocky and Drago keep exchanging Fraught Glances.

They don’t play the Star Spangled Banner, of course, even though I think its pretty standard before sporting events to play the national anthems of the various participants. But you know…commies.

Rocky is announced to the crowd, which angrily jeers him. Again, this is good PR? “It’s unbelievable!” one Concerned Commentator blurts. “I have never, in all my years of reporting, seen such a hostile crowd!” I guess he’s never been to a Yankees / Red Sox game. The ring announcer, meanwhile, is naturally speaking in Russian. I assume they didn’t translate his announcements because they didn’t want to point out that Drago probably outweighs Rocky by seventy or eighty pounds. Sure, he’s obviously huge, but there’s no reason to make our our suspension of disbelief even harder.

If you look very closely, you may discern a slight size differential between the two fighters.

The fighters approach the center of the ring. “The Russian towers over the American!” one commentator helpfully adds. In case we have ourselves failed to notice that Drago is nearly a foot taller than Rocky and proportionally bigger. “It’s a true case of David and Goliath!” Which would be more believable if Rocky were also planning to employ some sort of range weapon against his opponent. Even with the Lord’s help, David didn’t stand toe to toe with Goliath and beat him into submission.

Then we get one of the film’s classic camp moments, as Drago tells Rocky, in what can only be described as an Elmer Fudd-trying-to-sound-tough voice, “I must break you.” Needless to say, this is a complete waste. If you’re doing Elmer Fudd, you should say something like “I must destwoy you.” Otherwise, what’s the point? Damn Russians. Anyway, then he smacks Rocky’s gloves really hard. Just to show he’s a badass and everything. Which it totally communicates. Between that and the time when he killed Rocky’s best friend by punching him, it totally sells Drago as being kind of a jerk.

Rocky’s new mantra, as provided by Duke, is “No pain!” Gee, if only Apollo had used that, he might still be alive. Then the bell rings and Drago immediately gets Rocky into a corner and just murderously pummels him. Rocky eventually extricates himself, but is still disadvantaged by the fact that his arms are half as long as his opponent’s. “Brace yourself!” Duke helpfully cries. Good thing he’s in Rocky’s corner, by golly.

''Hey! Listen to me, man! What do you care what the critics think? People buying tickets, that's all that matters! Screw the reviews!''

Here we get a pretty good continuity error, which are a little more funny in big budget studio movies like this. At one point we cut to Paulie and Duke, and the latter has red blood splotches all over his shirt. This is sort of weird, since Rocky has yet to return to his corner.

Rocky briefly manages to back Drago in a corner, but the big Russian just tosses him back, and then literally invites Rocky to pound away at his midsection. And so things continue. This is both the longest and the goofiest fight in the Rocky series so far. I’m not an aficionado of the sweet science, but even I’ve seen enough fight clips to know that the fighters quickly become exhausted, and that a dozen punches miss or glance off or are slipped for each one that solidly lands.

This is a movie fight, though, and pretty much every blow is a massively powerful direct hit. So as we watch Drago launch literally dozens of unerringly crushing punches to Rocky’s face and head and mid-section, it’s difficult not to dwell on the fact that the near instantly debilitating beating Creed took earlier would be a rather more realistic result of this sort of pummeling. And sure enough, Rocky is soon lying dazed on the mat, even if his face shows none of the bruising and bleeding and swelling Creed evinced by this point.

Not to blow things, but Rocky gets back up to his feet before the count finishes. Drago then comes over and continues mauling Our Hero. In the first two movies, Rocky seemed preternaturally tough. By the third and fourth chapters, though, he’s downright inhumanly tough. There’s just no way anyone could shrug off the sort of beating he gets here. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we will eventually see Drago knock Rocky to the ground at least half a dozen times, only to have him bounce right back up.

Given this, the intermittent attempts to suggest that Rocky’s in trouble are unconvincing at best. When he tells Duke early on in the fight (before he fights like 12 more rounds) that he seems to be seeing three Dragos out there, Paulie advises, “Hit the one in the middle.” Duke concurs. Again, good thing for Rocky that he has these geniuses backing him up. Of course, Rocky’s problem isn’t that he’s swinging at the wrong Drago, it’s that he can’t reach him when he tries.

Perhaps noticing all this, the film tries to sell us on chinks in Drago’s armor. “You’re not doing as you’re told!” Drago’s coach hisses. Apparently his instructions did not involve beating the holy hell out of his opponent, then. Meanwhile, Duke offers Rocky further practical advise. “Take his heart!” he shouts. “You hurt him, you’ll take his heart.” This plan seems sound, but has perhaps one fatal flaw:

Step One: Get repeatedly and devastatingly beaten by bigger, stronger opponent.
Step Two:
Step Three: And in so doing, hurt him and take his heart.

Rocky just continues to gets creamed, until he finally lands a blow that manages to do what none of Drago’s punches have done so far; open up a cut. Despite the fact that this is under Drago’s eye, and that even in the Soviet Union I think they have band-aids, everybody acts like this is some massive, momentum-changing event. Ludmilla leaps up in shock, the commentators yell even more, and even Drago looks briefly panicked.

This allows Rocky to go on a bit of a rampage himself. Drago is literally on the ropes (!), when the bell rings. Rocky continues to hit him, though, which is apparently OK because he’s the hero. Then Drago grabs his throat (kind of hard to do when wearing a boxing glove, you’d think) and returns the favor; which is mean, because Drago’s not the hero. So Rocky responds by grabbing Drago by the waist and hoisting him in the air. (!!) I think he learned that move from when Solomon Grundy fought Superman on the old Challenge of the Superfriends show.

The two fall to the mat, still exchanging blows, until the corner men rush in and break them up. You’d think the Russians would be protesting Rocky’s breaking of the rules, but apparently not. “This is shaping up to be a personal war!” one announcer gasps. I guess he’s really surprised by this, which again seems weird what with the dead best friend and all.

I guess the idea about why the cut is so important is that that it shows, as Duke insists, that Drago “is not a machine, he’s a man!” Actually, I think everyone knew that Drago was a man. The point was that he’s a vastly bigger, stronger and younger man. I have to say, the idea that the Russian boxing champion (who has presumably spent the last several years performing horrendously painful workouts to build up his mighty physique) would completely freak out if he should be caused to bleed strikes me as a little dubious. I’m pretty sure fighters have bled during matches before.

But sure enough, Drago is spooked. And why not, since again, Rocky has already taken enough punishment to have killed any three men. “He’s not human,” Drago mutters. “He’s like a piece of iron.” Well, at least they explained Rocky’s amazing resistance to damage. You could punch a piece of iron for a long time and not hurt it. Even worse, a piece of iron of any size would be functionally bullet-proof, which means that Drago can’t even shoot his opponent. He’s kind of screwed, when you think about it. Maybe he can hide an acetylene torch up his glove, or something.

We go into montage mode, and watch as the round numbers flash across the screen, all while Rocky continues to take the lion’s share of the punishment. It doesn’t matter, though, because of the piece of iron thing. That’s really a pretty good advantage in a prize fight, I’d think. After a while, I started thinking too that Drago might be a hemophiliac. He’s stronger and has hit Rocky in the face a dozen times for every blow Rocky has landed in return, but he’s bleeding much more profusely. It’s kind of weird, actually. Rocky’s face isn’t even really swollen up.

Oh, yeah. He’s like a piece of iron. Never mind.

This sequence continues on and on, and I guess it has struck many as incredibly cool, although I doubt I’m completely alone in finding it comical. Eventually, apparently having concluded that it’s pretty macho to get completely punched out for 11 rounds and barely show any effect of it, some of the crowd suddenly starts cheering for Balboa. “Suddenly,” one commentator helpfully explains, “Moscow is pro-Rocky!”

This is, and there’s no other word for it, retarded. This wasn’t Stalin’s USSR, but it was still a totalitarian dictatorship. First of all, nobody would have been invited to attend this thing unless they were some sort of connected party bigwig. In other words, an assortment of fanatical true believers leavened with others who, at the very least, would know on which side their bread was buttered. Moreover, they’re sitting there watching this gigantic propaganda deal in the presence of the entire frickin’ Politburo. The idea that they would suddenly start rooting for the American, therefore, is utterly, completely ridiculous. I’m not saying they’d be taken out and shot, but it would certainly have an impact on their apartment and vehicle and job assignments and suchlike.

And so it goes, on and on and on. Both fighters, who by this point one must literally assume are indestructible zombies, continue to bash at one another, with Rocky taking the majority of the hits. Meanwhile, Duke keeps him going with continued shouts of “No Pain!” and “Take his heart!” I guess you’ll consider me less of a man for admitting this, but I eventually did start leaning on the fast forward button a little to help me through all this.

With the last round about to begin, the crowd is now audibly chanting, “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” Whatever. Seriously, that’s insane. Gorbofaux gives Koloff an Ominous Look, and that guy, I believe, might actually find himself relocated to Siberia the next morning. Koloff runs down to berate Drago, and the infuriated fighter grabs him by the throat and literally lifts him up in the air. “I fight for me!” Drago yells, both to the crowd and to a glowering Gorbafaux. I’m not sure whether that’s supposed to make him more or less likeable, and frankly, I really don’t care. I really just want this to end.

The bell rings. Here Drago launches and lands about, and I’m not exaggerating, thirty or forty blows. Along the line, Rocky just puts down his gloves and invites Drago to freely punch his face. He can do this, you see, because this is a movie and the script says he will win. Drago could run a tank over him at this point and it wouldn’t really matter. What’s insulting, though, is that the movie isn’t even trying to hide this anymore. It’s got all the dramatic gravitas of a WWF match.

Eventually, if for no other reason than it’s finally time for the movie to end, Rocky starts landing all the punches. But then Drago comes back, then Rocky again, and so on and so forth. At this point, we’re told, “It’s a matter of who wants it the most.” Yes, when the script has magically negated the huge size and power differential Drago should enjoy, I guess that’s the result. And needless to say, I think we all know who wants it more.

Anyway, at the last second (because if they reach the end of the round the fight would officially be a draw) Drago goes down for the count, and even falls out of the ring as he struggles to reclaim his feet. (!!) Everyone goes nuts, the crowd of Soviet hardliners goes crazy chanting the American boxer’s name, and the Rocky theme plays triumphantly in the background. At this point all that was missing was a scene of Gorbofaux and the politburo members themselves leaping to their feet and enthusiastically applauding the spunky American. I mean, if you’re going to get this stupid, you might as well just open the throttle and go for it.

Even so, the film’s most nauseating moment is yet to come. After pimping a rah-rah Americanism of the crudest possible sort for the entire movie, and giving us evil Soviet steroid-using murderous boxers and their bitchy wives to hiss at, Rocky—in what I can only assume was Stallone’s bid to mitigate what to several of his Hollywood friends must have seemed the alarmingly ‘simplistic’ patriotic tone of this movie—now pauses to deliver a Speech of Hope to us all.

“I came here tonight,” the (sort of) battered fighter begins, “and I didn’t know what to expect. I seen a lot of people hatin’ me, and I didn’t know what to feel about that, so I guess I didn’t like you much none either. [Thank you, Huntz Hall.] During this fight, I seen a lot of changing, the way you felt about me, and the way I felt about you. In here, were two guys killing each other, but I guess, that’s better than twenty million.” Here we do cut, and I’m not kidding, to a shot of the Politburo members looking all thoughtful and stuff. (!!)

“So what I’m trying to say is,” Our Hero concludes, “that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!” The crowd erupts in applause at these hopeful words, and luckily, Rocky proved half right. It turns out we didn’t need to change that much, but the Russian government did. Eventually, the people rose us and threw the bums out.

I’m not sure that’s what Stallone had in mind when he wrote this disgusting little piece of hypocrisy (which again, sticks in my craw almost entirely for the way it on a dime just flat out contradicts the entire movie’s base jingoism). After all, the idea of the Soviet Union actually going onto the ash heap of history must have seemed chillingly Reagan-esque at the time. Still and all, and even though Russia has hardly become a new City on the Hill, the Soviet Union is gone and the world is at least a better, fundamentally safer place than it used to be.

But wait! There’s more! For sure enough, after Rocky finishes his inarticulate but sincere Message of Hope..no!…yes!…a stunned-looking Gorbofaux solemnly stands, followed by the members of the Politburo, and gives Rocky a hearty standing ovation!! Seriously!! You know, I may have seen two or three other things in the movies as completely moronic as this, but I can’t think of any them right off hand. I’m not sure even Tom Laughlin ever topped this one.

''Yo. I, uh, know I've kind of been making all you guys look like demonic scum throughout this entire movie, here. But, uh, now I suddenly want to turn around on a dime and make some equally phony baloney statement about peace and stuff. So what do you say?''

The only thing that could beat this scene would be to refilm it, so that Jesse Owens gives this speech after winning his fourth gold medal at the 1936 Olympics, whereupon we would cut to an ennobled-looking Hitler and the members of the High Commands rising to their feet and applauding him. I mean, when you think about it, you could use nearly the exact same speech. (Although Owens probably spoke better.)

Then Rocky wishes a Merry Christmas to Rocky Jr., and a shining-faced Rocky Jr. is seen mouthing “I love you!” and Rocky embraces Adrian, and the crowd of Soviet apparatchiks continues to madly cheer Rocky’s victory, and Rocky is draped in the American flag (STOP THAT!), and, yeppers, we get the inevitable freeze-frame, and finally, finally, at long, long last, this stupid movie ends. Or at least kicks off its solid four minutes of end credits.

By the way, a few years after Rocky’s hopeful speech about us All Getting Along, Stallone (following two hideous flops, Cobra and Over the Top) made Rambo III, in which he helped kick the once more evil Russians out of Afghanistan. Way to stick to your guns, Sly.


AFTERTHOUGHTS
:

Rocky and Rocky II basically ran two hours. Rocky III was a leaner hundred minutes. Rocky IV, meanwhile, was a stripped-down 91 minutes. To some extent, obviously, this is because much of the expositional heavy-lifting, introducing the main characters to the audience and such, was already accomplished. So the shortened running time, in itself, is not really an indictment.

Even so, there’s no doubt that the shorter Rocky IV is the flabbiest of any of the initial quartet of Rocky films. And I’m not even counting its opening three minute recap of Rocky III‘s climax, the James Brown production number, the music video scene of Rocky driving around in his car featuring a lengthy montage of footage from the previous films, the several smaller quasi-video scenes, or the four entire minutes of closing credits.

It think its fair to say that, its general jackassery aside (including most definitely that friggin’ robot), the Rocky series was clearly just out of steam by this point, even with the addition of giant evil Russians and the star’s recently acquired trophy wife. As the series progresses, the films became more and more about the increasingly outré boxing matches, at the same time that the star was growing older and less credible as a prize fighter. Rocky was more or less obviously intended to be a self-contained movie, and its not surprising that the series increasingly floundered, at least artistically, as they kept churning out new chapters.

You can see why Stallone, especially with his career starting to fade, so desperately tried to bring the series back to its more naturalistic roots with the fifth and sixth entries. From a critical standpoint, Stallone pretty much blew his wad with the first Rocky, flicks like Copland aside. Looking back at his filmography, it’s amazing that he sustained his stardom as long as he did, giving the long series of generally awful movies he offered audiences. The Rambo and Rocky films were all that kept him afloat commercially, when you get down to it. And only Rocky, the first movie in which he played the lead, gave him any sort of artistic credibility as a filmmaker.

On the other hand, it was Stallone himself that pissed away the credibility of the Rocky series. He wrote the entire entries, and directed the second, third and fourth film as well. He was handsomely paid to prostitute the one really good movie he had ever made. I guess it’s only natural that when the money eventually stopped coming in, and the years started weighing more heavily on his shoulders, that he would look back and feel a little wistful about what he had wrought.

This review was the special request of March 2007’s
Jabootu Sponsor of the Month, Thomas Krug.
(So blame him.)
Thanks, Thomas!

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  • Jack Spencer

    Interstingly, Rocky IV is the only Rocky movie I have ever seen.

    No. Really.

    As such, I rather enjoyed it, in spite of the idiocy that was put there, like the robot (WTF were they thinking?) or the lame-o political message. I think I was young enough at the time to actually buy that crap. I also used to thing the Sting song “Russians” was good, too.

  • ericb

    I’d love to see them carry on with the promise of Rocky IV and revive Rocky by pairing him with another moribund franchise ala Freddie vs. Jason or Alien vs. Predator. You know, something like Rocky vs Terminator or Rocky vs. Rambo.

  • Food

    This is one of the very best dissections you’ve ever done, Ken. This was a blast to read! Cheers!!!

  • LukeB

    I havn’t read it yet, but Rocky IV is one of the most laughably awful films I’ve ever had the fortune to see. If your review is only half as funny as the film Ken we have another Jabootu classic.

  • This was actually the first Rocky movie I ever, back when I was maybe 7 or 8. I thought it was pretty cool at that age, but the years haven’t been kind to it.

  • Loved the series, and love (in so many different ways) the Rocky series too. From the simple brilliance of the first, to the absolutely craptacular enjoyment of the fourth, these are brilliant. I still think you’re underestimating how little plot the fourth movie actually has.

    These are the things in the movie which do not actually move the plot forward, or tell us new things about the characters :

    – THe replay of the end of Rocky III
    – THe birthday party for Paulis.
    – The birthday present for Adrian
    – The James Brown sequence.
    – The Stallone driving montage.
    – The training montage (Balboa and Drago).
    – Most of the final fight.

    ALmost all the plot movement is contained in those press conferences!!

  • Danny

    To his credit, Stallone seems to have looked over the prior five movies before making Rocky Balboa, which acts a lot more like a rerun of the first film (Gatorade Commercial of a match aside), and is fairly good.

    The “Everybody can change!” speech at the end never bothered me (Albeit perhaps because the Berlin Wall fell when I was a year old, and I don’t know the Cold War from experience…). It’s remarkably tame, when you think about it. All Rock’s saying is that Russians and Americans are not inherently enemies, which is true enough. It does rather strongly jar with the rest of the film, though. And history, as Putin becomes increasingly Sovietesque.

    The robot, though, baffles me. Somehow, all memory of it had left my mind. Only recently are robots starting to enter homes, and none of them are as advanced as that mantis thing, though we’re starting to get close. The weird Paulie/Robot slash the movie serves up is probably creepier now than it was back then.

    I love, by the way, your analysis of these movies, and why they work and why they fail. As a burgeoning storyteller, this fascinates me.

    Anyway, line of the recap:

    “Well, at least they explained Rocky’s amazing resistance to damage. You could punch a piece of iron for a long time and not hurt it. Even worse, a piece of iron of any size would be functionally bullet-proof, which means that Drago can’t even shoot his opponent. He’s kind of screwed, when you think about it. Maybe he can hide an acetylene torch up his glove, or something.”

  • I must say, I was overjoyed when I came to your site today and found a new movie review, up and ready to be read. When I first came across your reviews, Mister Begg, I was intimidated by their length. It was only a month or so after discovering them that I decided to actually read one, and since then I’ve read them all but “Double Agent 73”, because the pictures with that one made me want to vomit. And, more importantly, not one of your reviews has failed to entertain me. Thank you, Mister Begg, for your devotion to shoddy movies.

  • Jimmy

    Great review, Ken. No need to apologise for the extra long preface, the prefaces to your longer dissections, explaining the history and the background of the film are often the most interesting part (No to knock the rest of the rest of the material). It has actually interested me in doing something I haven’t done before- actually sitting down and watching the Rocky movies.

  • Ken HPoJ

    Thanks, everybody. Glad you liked the piece. I have to admit, I really did feel kind of nuts there when I stopped and realized the length at which I was writing up the earlier films. On the other hand, how could I examine a sequel without going over the earlier films first? Really, I should not have been surprised at where my inclinations led me.

    I had forgotten about the Robot, and at the time (since dumbness was a pretty standard ’80s film element) it probably didn’t seem quite as weird. Now it really does, and especially after (for the first time) I had watched the first film quite recently. I tried to communicate as effectively as I could the “how the heck did they get from here to here” thing, but even now that Robot seems inexplicable.

    My problem with Rocky’s speech isn’t so much it’s tenor (which I do find woefully and potentially dangerously naive, as is the Sting song Russians that Jack mentions–after all, I’m sure the Nazis loved their children too, for what that proves), as the fact that it completely exposes just how artificial and craven the rest of the film’s Soviet-bashing was. Stallone’s wish to have his cake and eat it too really sums up a lot of the problems with his later career, and certainly with his overwhelmingly underwhelming filmography.

    Aussiesmurf is of course correct in noting that there is nearly no plot whatsoever in the film, and his comment that what there is, is nearly entirely advanced in the press conferences is spot on. As I suggested, Rocky IV is both the shortest and yet the flabbiest of the series.

    Rocky vs. Predator? I would *definately* pay ten bucks to see that, and it probably wouldn’t be that much more exaggerated than Rocky IV.

    That “piece of iron” thing made me laugh even as a kid when I saw the movie in the theater. Rocky just takes this horrendous beating over this sustained length of time, and I’m like, c’mon, and then the ‘justification’ of it is that remark. I actually remember hearing that and thinking, “Oh, well, that explains it.”

    I’m glad that this inspired Jimmy to consider looking over the four films himself. As with the Jaws movies, there is something fascinating, if you are interested in the actual making of films, to see the inevitable drift and compromises inherent to making a film series.

    For myself, I find the writing out of my thoughts really helps me clarify them. I considered just watches the first three films and not really going over them in detail, but I realized that I wouldn’t really get my thoughts on them in order if I didn’t put them down on, er, electrons, or whatever. I can think over stuff in my head endlessly, but have found that it’s really only when I get the chance to verbally vomit those thoughts over some poor victim, that the putting of things into words makes explicit connections that I sensed rather than consciously realized. Writing serves the same function. I’m not sure the method justifies the madness, but that’s the idea, anyway.

  • Ericb

    Shouldn’t there have been some legal repercussions for killing someone in the ring particularly as is was just an exhibition match rather than an actual title bout? I mean, hell, if you hit someone in the head hard enough to break their neck in what is ostensibly an exhibition shouldn’t that at the very least be considered manslaughter?

  • Ericb

    Even if he is innocent and eventually aquitted there would have been a police investigation and maybe a trial, and I’m sure that Creed’s family would have a very good case for a civil suit.

  • Hasimir

    Great review! I’m glad to see that despite choosing to review the decline of the Jaws series over the Rocky series, you were able to deal with the Rocky series anyway. I would like to add that not only are the lengthy introductions good for the reasons Jimmy gives above (‘explaining the history and the background of the film [is] often the most interesting part’), but they are also useful for those of us who are unfamiliar with the previous films. I myself have never seen a Rocky film. I do wonder, Ken, why you didn’t continue with your ‘Elements Indicative of a X Sequel’ list from the Jaws reviews on Rocky III and IV. Certainly IV meets all the requirements on the list:

    ‘Elements Indicative of a Third Sequel:

    The movie really, I mean really, sucks.’

    As someone who was a fan of boxing (not so much anymore), I can think of at least two idiocies about boxing during the fight scenes. (My details may be a little off since it’s been several years since I took a serious interest in boxing.) First, whether Rocky threw in the towel for Creed or not, the referee in a boxing match has the power to end the fight if one boxer clearly can no longer defend himself. They are not shy about exercising this power either, as fighters occasionally complain that they were not incapacitated and challenge the ref’s decision, though they are never successful. Given the punishment you describe, with a bleeding Creed trapped in the corner being beaten, I have a hard time accepting that the referee does not stop the fight. I’ve seen them stop heavyweight bouts just because the other guy is only guarding and unable to move or respond to his attacker.

    Second, cuts, especially around the eyes, are quite common. Each boxer has in his corner a ‘cut-man’ (yes, the official term is ‘cut-man’) whose job is to fix up cuts between rounds or, if it’s bad enough that the ref calls a temporary halt, during a round. If the bleeding cannot be stopped within a reasonable time (at the ref’s discretion, but generally no more than a minute), the fight is called. Also, I’ve read that the ringside fight doctor can judge a cut too severe for a boxer to continue, though I’ve never seen a doctor intervene in a fight. I’ve only seen a fight called because of a cut when it was over the boxer’s eye and interfered with his vision (since the cutman couldn’t get it to stop bleeding). The ref judged that a man who can see out of only one eye can’t adequately defend himself and called the bout. Since Ivan’s cut is below his eye, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal.

    Oh, and the best line? “Rocky’s new mantra, as provided by Duke, is ‘No pain!’ Gee, if only Apollo had used that, he might still be alive.”

  • Dan Coyle

    What I find amusing about the portrayal of the Soviet Union as some sort of technologically superior empire- and while my politics lean seriously left, I am no fan of the Soviets- the reality was that in four years we’d all discover it was basically a third world country with a large army and nukes.

    Given the robber baron, oligarchal nature of the politburo anyway, would they bother will all that stuff?

  • Ken HPoJ

    On the legal front, I imagine that boxing is considered so inherently dangerous that the participants are basically taking part with an assumption of risk. Just like NASCAR or something, where if you hit another car and a resultant crash killed a driver, you’d be imdemnified legally.

    Again, though, I question what sort of propaganda coup it would be for a rising Soviet boxer to come here and beat a beloved retired boxing champion to death. Legal issues aside, the idea that this would represent a PR triumph for the USSR strikes me as more than a little unlikely.

    I do enjoy these series deconstructions, although in most cases I would have fewer fresh observations. The Halloween series is ripe, but I don’t know that I’d be interested in wading through all that crap. I probably will eventually work through the Airport series, but that’s different, in that none of the Airport movies are very good to start with.

    I didn’t really think to pull all my “Signs of Sequel #X” for Rockies III & IV, but many of them don’t apply, for one reason or other. For instance, the main participants, including most notibly Stallone, remain engaged with the series throughout. In fact, Stallone became more an even more pivotal figure with the later films, as he took over the directorial reins as well.

    While the later films did employ “cheap gimmicks”, they did not, in fact, alienate the audience, in that both Rocky 3 & 4 were major hits.

    The “really, really sucks” one, though, does indeed fit.

  • Solid Jake

    As much as I enjoy your bad movie reviews, I think your good movie reviews are even better. To date your Jaws review is still my favorite.

    If I could offer a suggestion for your next series deconstruction: the Alien movies. With those you’d have the unique situation of a sequel that actually improves upon the original before the series takes a nosedive.

  • Jack Spencer

    What I find increasingly interesting about these series deconstructions is how the gap between the superlative first film and the merely competent second seems like the widest gap in quality. I’m not sure why that is, but for my money, I would rate Jaws 2 as worse than Jaws the Revenge. This puzzles me. It might have something to do with the cinematic bell curve where films at opposite ends seem to have more in common with each other than with those in the middle. It may be that since the first sequel was made much closer to the original, expectations were higher, and therefore more disappointing when it failed to reach the lofty heights of its predecessor. That is, the first sequel cheapens the whole concept. Later installments can only cheapen it incrementally and that gap will never seem quite as big.

  • Danny

    Ken is correct. Killing a boxer in the ring is generally considered an accident in the real world. Of course, in the real world, the referee would’ve stopped the fight about ten minutes prior. (Drago literally throws Apollo across the ring).

    Of course, if the ref had stopped the Apollo match, we’d be wondering why the evil Soviet ref wasn’t stopping Rocky’s match in the early rounds.

    Really, I wish Rocky has won via a Rope-a-Dope or a
    Dempsey Roll, or some other real technique that boxers can use to overcome vast size and weight differences (especially since Apollo described Drago as “Clumsy”), then we’d have a victory both more realistic (albeit still unlikely), and more dramatic, as American ingenuity would’ve won the day.

    (Traditionally, out-fighters are super effective against Brawlers like Drago, but Rocky had a short reach)

    While we know now that the Soviet Union was far, far behind us, was that the case at the time? (This is a real question). Regardless, painting the Soviets as being technologically inferior to America, accurate though it may have been, wouldn’t make them very threatening villains. Not that they were, anyway.

    Also, again, the long intros are a blessing. Keep them.

  • Chris Magyar

    I, too, am a huge fan of these series reviews (we just want even longer pieces, Ken!), and I think the Alien one has potential, except for the fact that the fall wasn’t quite as far as in Jaws, Rocky, and Superman. The assorted horror franchises are all much too long to be subjected to any rational deconstruction, and only a complete masochist or a complete idiot would attempt to assault the Police Academy oeuvre.

    One thing I’ve noticed with trilogies: the second installment tends to either be the best of the lot (Star Wars, Terminator … I believe this will become true for Spiderman) or the worst (Indiana Jones … and I believe this will become true for Pirates of the Carribean). While there are certainly trilogies that exhibit steady decline (Back to the Future, Godfather), it seems the triangular motion is more common. (The only steady incline I can think of is possibly the Star Wars prequels, which rose from utterly stupid to charmingly stupid to eye-popping and yet still stupid.)

    It’s too bad that the trilogy is rapidly disappearing as a discrete cinematic unit, as franchises are routinely stretched into the ever-dangerous IV territory. (See: Indiana Jones.)

  • sardu

    “Oh, and the best line? ‘Rocky’s new mantra, as provided by Duke, is “No pain!” Gee, if only Apollo had used that, he might still be alive.’ ”

    Actually, maybe if he had used the mantra “No total metabolic shutdown” it would have turned out better…

  • Dillon

    Naturally, as a legally sanctioned boxing match, Drago was not culpable for Apollo’s death. He was, however, a big fat jerk.

    I never actually saw any of the Rocky movies all the way through. I started this one, and once I saw the robot, I was done. You’re a more tolerant man that I, Ken.

  • Food

    I agree about your intros, Ken. I like them a lot. Ths historical background is interesting. Cheers!!!

  • Brad

    Damn you, Ken! I wanted to write a review of this thing, and you did a better job than I could’ve (and more than once, especially when you listed all the bits of filler in this 91-minute movie, I thought you were reading my mind).

    Tell ya the truth, I like Stallone, and I thorougly enjoyed Rocky Balboa. Sly ought to give up the big blockbusters and play character parts in small movies. He ain’t a great actor, but he can handle himself given the right script.

    At least Stallone realizes now what a dog Rocky IV was. I saw him on Conan O’Brien a couple of years back, and he made a joke about the movie, showing he know now that he gave us all a big stinking pile o’ crap of a movie.

  • DamonD

    I believe someone once pointed out that a single two thousand p.s.i. punch would be the equivalent of being hit in the head by a car going 40 mph. The figures are ramped up so cartoonishly high to make Drago look powerful that the first direct impact from his fists should’ve literally sent Rocky’s head sailing into the 14th row (possibly straight onto Gorbofaux’s lap).

    What happens to Creed, while still both over-the-top (in terms of the flush shots he takes) and actually not over-the-top enough (in terms of his head remaining on his shoulders), is still closer to the truth. Much more than Rocky not even looking as beat-up against Drago as he did from the two fights with Creed.

    Still, it’s a big dumb popcorn film and I like the character of Balboa, so…I’ve gotta admit, I’ve tuned in for this one like all the rest. I’m just a bit of a sucker for Rocky.

  • Dan Coyle

    Rocky V (which I’d love to see Ken review) did address Drago’s merciless beating by making Rocky a victim of brain damage, and losing all his fortume. Stallone sort of overdid it, however.

    Rocky Balboa drops this plot point, IIRC.

  • Mark Hawley

    Great review.

    Having two eighties vanity pictures in a row has been a real treat, not to mention a lenghty analysis of a film series adding more icing on the cake.

  • Up until a few months ago, I had only seen the first one. Then Comcast had the whole series on its free video-on-demand service when number six was coming out, so I watched II and III one evening, and IV and V the next morning.

    That was not a good 24 hours–especially the last four or so.

  • Bryan

    Ken-
    When are you going to publish a book of your reviews? I’d buy it. You’re a lot more fun to read than most (all) of the mainstream reviewers.

  • I’ve actually toyed with that idea (and thought over whether it should have a theme, or just a ‘greatest hits’ sort of thing), but have never had the time to do all the revision work that would be necessary. Typos on a website are bad enough, in a book, nearly criminal. In retrospect, if I had really wanted to do this, I should have worked on it during my recent hiatus.

    I really don’t think I’d sell many copies, but frankly the big motivation would just to have a physical artifact of my stuff. That would be very satisfying, in a sort of pathetic fashion.

    (Ratcheting up the pathetic factor greatly, I could then give people copies of it for Christmas!)

  • Dannny

    I’d buy that book. Generally, websites that end up publishing either offer a collection of greatest hits and new-to-the-book material (Tuckermax.com, which isn’t worksafe), or a completely new book in the vein of what the site covers (like Wrestlecrap.com, which might be relevant to your interests, as it’s vaguely Jabootuesque).

    I’d buy a collection of recaps if I found it in a store (I don’t buy online. Sorry.), and I’d very interested in a book detailing the history or trends of bad movies, or some such thing.

    So yes. If you got a book published, I’d probably buy it.

  • sardu

    Ken!! Publishers have editors!! They’ll whip things into shape- I’d bet your manuscript would be in better shape than most submissions. You should do it- I’d buy it. it would be great to have a book of truly epic reviews in hardcopy.

  • Food

    I would definitely buy a published work of your stuff, Ken.

    I do wonder which came first: Drago’s stoicism or Drago’s nationality. I know that it was common for Russians to be portrayed as robotic; but since the previous Rocky movies featured increasingly loudmouthed opponents, and since you really can’t top Mr. T in that department, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the first decisions was that Rocky’s opponent for IV would go the opposite direction and be a totally silent robotic sort. Not a bad idea, it just got stuck in a goofball movie.

  • DamonD

    Now I have the mental image of Drago trying to trash-talk like Clubber…oh man, that would’ve been worth the price of admission alone…

    “I do not need no haz-been mezzing up my cornuh!”

  • Asta Kask

    So, does Rocky qualify for the “Hero’s Death Battle Excemption” in Rocky IV? I seriously think he does, given the clobbering Creed takes…

    Bad Movie but Good Review. I wonder what MST3K would have made of it.

  • ADAMBOMB 1701

    Good review, Ken. Although it took as long for me to read it as “Rocky IV” runs. With its 91 minute running time, including four minutes of closing credits, all the flashbacks and other montages, it’s safe to say that there’s a little more than an hour’s worth of fresh material here. And, it may have been the most expensive of all six films.
    I’ve seen five out of the six “Rocky” films. The first four in a theater, and “V” on HBO. I still have yet to see “Rocky Balboa,” but as I rarely see movies in theaters anymore, or rent DVDs, that’s one for pay cable as well.
    Supposedly, Stallone wanted Rocky to die in “V.” United Artists (and not Universal, as you have in the review – check the ads you have posted) nixed that.
    I wonder why Bill Conti bailed as the composer here. The music score was composed by one Vince Di Cola. Mr. Conti did return to score the next two “Rocky”‘s.

  • Philidor

    Robots

    I enjoyed Mr. Begg’s growing distaste for the robot. If he makes a short subject in which the robot drubs him before he demolishes his antagonist, his fists clanging thunderously, I’d watch.

    Surprised, though that he didn’t notice the two robots in the movie, one dangerous – the humsn – and one very domesticated – the machine.

    I’m afrad there’s an Ironic Theme here, Mr. Begg.

  • Anders

    Reading the review may, in fact, take more time than actually watching the movie. But then, the review is funnier (but no music!)

  • Anders

    Someone who spends a lot more thinking about this than any of the people involved in the show might, just might, rationalize the behavior of Gorbafaux as damage control.

    But I doubt it.

  • Food

    I just noticed that in Rocky II, the Gonna Fly Now angelic chorus is vocalized by children. The hundreds of kids chasing after Rocky is hard enough to believe, but hearing the children’s chorus makes this scene embarassing to watch.

    I protect myself by telling myself that half the kids didn’t know why they were chasing after Rocky, they just saw the crowd and figured they might as well join in.

  • Jack Spencer

    The thing about the boxer vs wrestler thiung, that stuff had been done before. I remember seeing in school some old B&W, silent footage from a similar bout between a boxer and a wrestler. It was quite hilarious as the wrestler basically rolled around the boxer as he danced in the center of the ring. Neither man touched the other. Their fighting skills were so unmatched that nothing happened, man. But, people keep pitting boxers against wrestlers because people are stupid, I guess. Googling up “boxer vs wrestler” gets some interesting results. So, I guess my point is, it’s stupid, but really happens. Especially for “charity events”

  • Colin Simm

    Great recap, as always. It’s good to know that even a dyed-in-the-wool conservative like yourself could be turned off by this movie’s demonization of the Soviets.

  • Tork_110

    I hate to say it, but I have some devastating news.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070312/ts_alt_afp/afpentertainmentpeople_070312121313

    It’s scandalous!

  • Anders

    From the Swedish review of Rocky IV:

    “Few people can play a brain-injured boxer as well as Stallone.”

    I’m not entirely certain that that is a compliment.

  • Ed

    Christ. One has to bow at the alter of Ken’s acumen with this stuff. I swear man, you need to be in the business as a consultant. You could probably prevent a whole lot of bad movies from actually happening. Of course, that would be bad for Jabootu. But just imagine for a second: we have “Fantastic 4 II” coming out shortly. Probably cost upwards of 75 million to make. Probably going to be hellishly bad and not even break even or break even because of cable release in third world countries over two years. But what if the studio execs brought you in to consult about it at the moment of conception? You could pick apart the script and put it together tighter with light-years better dialog, casting, and overall plot.

    What’s amazing about your epic reviews is that their hilarious observations are matched only by their serious, laser-like knowledge of the film biz, both past and present. This is why I fell in love w/ this site in the first place.

    Would that Hollywood could get similar individuals involved in a movie in its pre-prodouction, in utero phase.

    Again though…Jabootu would suffer for it. Alas.

  • I’m right there with you on this whole review. (And skip down to the bottom!? Hell, no. I love your style. A good Jabootu review is like a kind of literary comfort food to me.) The original Rocky was cheesy to be sure, but damn if it wasn’t genuinely pretty good and dedicated to being REAL. The series went downhill in a hurry. I’ve only seen as far as part IV – and it was just such a typical Hollywood plastic and packaged Product that it was only the USA vs. USSR angle that even held my attention.

    Also, woo-hoo! that you thought draping the colors that never run over a sweaty, bleeding boxer was bad form. I freely admit to owning a big ‘ole flag that I have a patriotic affection for and it’s a replacement for my old one that was damaged. I looked up how to properly dispose of it too. My friends think that’s hilarious. But hey, may the wings of liberty never lose a feather! :D

  • Ed

    Aside from Ken’s film history knowledge and wit in the review, I have to say, the wicked quips under the pictures are one of the high points. I’m rolling when I read them. And that’s in virtually every review.

    This is one of your best reviews Ken. My favorites are “Battlefield Earth,” “Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country,” “Jaws,” (even tho that was an anomaly because it’s an excellent film – but seeing your acumen applied to a classic made the review that much more interesting), “MegaForce,” and a couple of others.

    Really great stuff. I’m a lifetime fan of this site. It is intelligent laughter at its best.

  • Ed

    Just to add an interesting comment on Stallone’s meteoric dive from Academy Award-winning hit movie to less-than-Mel-and-Arnold action hero:

    There’s an interesting line in “Copland” – perhaps the only semi-serious (although really, even that’s debatable) film Stallone made in 20 years. It’s delivered by Robert DeNiro to Stallone’s character, a feckless cowardly cop after DeNiro’s character is insulted by his inability to apprehend dirty cops and carry out his most basic duty. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve seen the film but to paraphrase, it’s something like “Ok cupcake, you’ve had forever to do what you should be doing” or some such (the script is not online).

    It’s very funny because I think there was some ‘method’ in it.

    If you catch my drift.

  • Just finished the review. Great work, Ken! I have to say, the descriptions of the first two Rocky sequels actually makes them pretty convincing as dramatic follow-ups. Sure, not as good as the first one, but still convincing as continuations of the Rocky story. In Rocky II’s, case, you have Rocky facing dramatic whiplash as he learns that minor fame just ain’t what it’s cracked up to be, especially in light of bigger stars while also advancing Apollo Creed to give him a greater sense of character with his obsession to completely beat Rocky. In the case of the third movie, while it’s sad to see Mickie go, the pathos of it does drive the theme that was running throughout it: the idea of Rocky getting old and the stardom that he once had being passed to a younger, more aggressive generation. It even helps that Clubber Lang goes through similar training tactics as Rocky, making it indicate that the issue is not the method of Lang’s rise to stardom, but his attitude once he reaches it.

    Of course, that would be implying that those who created these films were aware of the underlying themes that could’ve been conveyed and I’m sure they’re just as bad as you make them out to be.

    Still, come on, friggin’ ROBOT?! What is even the hell?!

  • Kathryn

    “If I could offer a suggestion for your next series deconstruction: the Alien movies. With those you’d have the unique situation of a sequel that actually improves upon the original before the series takes a nosedive.”

    Yes.

    The first movie is a fantastic example of a transposed ‘slasher/horror’ flick, with an air of improvised realism that the first Rocky movie has as well.

    The second movie, although an 80s Big Flick, plays off from the first one and – even though it re-uses the ‘Alien vs. Trapped Humans’ concept – takes off in a different direction. Like Jaws it popularised a thousand action movie cliches and would be well worth an anlysis by Ken examining its impact.

    Then Alien 3 (which I’ve not seen) is a weird one, and I believe a 90s artefact – religion-bashing, genetic modification and gender politics all appear to factor along side the social ideas of the treatment of criminals and the evils of the Corporation.

    (The Corporation was treated with a light touch in the first two flicks – sure they were bureaucratic and Burke was overly concerned with $$$, but he wasn’t an Eeeevil Capitalist in the Hollywood mould. I’m not sure how it’s treated in the third movie but it would be another angle to examine.)

    There you go – I’ll happily sponsor you for four months if you write that, Ken.

  • Ashley Pomeroy

    I have only ever seen the first two Rocky films, and about half an hour of Rocky IV. It’s been a while, and there’s one thing that makes me wonder. Does Rocky Marciano exist in the world of the Rocky films? Is Stallone’s character named after him, or is it just coincidence? To what extent do the Rocky films take place in our world? I have always been fascinated with the way that certain films, such as the James Bond movies, are supposed to be set in a version of the real world, one that reflects reality, but is not actually our own. This is particularly interesting in the case of the Rocky films, because at least the first one is supposed to be a gritty slice-of-life drama.

    Another thing. One of the commentators above mentions that Ken’s review of Jaws is his favourite. I second this. Some of these bad movie reviews are a slog to go through, although there are always at least flashes of brilliance. But the review of Jaws was consistently readable and entertaining. The summary of Stallone’s career, and of the first three Rocky films, is engaging and moved at a fair old clip. I’m in two minds as to whether the “describe the film as it plays out” approach is better than the kind of snappy capsule reviews that Roger Ebert can bash out in his sleep. Ken should review more good films, or films that straddle the boundary. The Towering Inferno and the whole disaster movement of the 1970s would be fascinating, although it would take years to do; fascinating because it was so long ago, and the world and the people are so different nowadays.

  • Ed

    Apollo and Rocky – They had joy…they had fun…they had seasons in the sun.

    Ken, thank you sir. Major kudos.

    To the poster who referred to Alien as a “slasher” genre flick.

    It’s not. Alien is a sci-fi horror movie. There are very, very few jump scenes. About three in the entire movie. The creepiness factor, like the great alien horror flicks of the fifties and sixties, is what sets this movie apart. Like Jaws before it, you see the monster only a few times. It’s powerful in what it holds back and, like Jaws, in the strength of the movie’s characterization. The traitorous android, the captain who seems weary yet sacrifices himself to try and rid the Nostromo of the invader, Ripley, who incidentally was originally cast for the fanstastic Veronica Carwright before Scott decided that Weaver worked better (there’s a great moment in the directo’s cut of this film – there is less than a minute of footage in the D cut, that’s how tight this movie is – anyhoo, Cartwright’s character bitchslaps Ripley and you KNOW there was some method going on there. Thespians….sigh.

    If Ken did a review of Alien, it would have to be like his Jaws review. Great critic touching on a classic. Unlike Jaws however, Alien did not slide down on so obvious a tracjectory. The James Cameron follow-up is excellent and utterly realistic and frightening. It’s similar to the Mad Max sequel, The Road Warrior and the Star Wars sequel (the one that mattered) The Empire Strikes Back, in that number two was powerful and very well done.

    That’s just my take.

    E

  • Danny

    Ashley Pomeroy: Indeed, Rocky Marciano existed in the Rocky movies. Stallone-Rocky had a photo of him on the mirror, and several references were made. Marciano, like Balboa, was unusually short with a small reach, which is probably where that comes from.

  • Ken HPoJ

    Wow! Just saw the most recent batch of messages (a close friend stopped working at the library yesterday, and we’ve been feting her), and will answer them later in the day. Sadly, my head grew so big even scanning over them that it now lays crushingly on my desk, which makes it hard to type.

    However, Kathryn’s (entirely too generous) offer deserves an immediate response. Chris Magyar had sent me a note about it, but before seeing her entire note but I worried that my takes on the films were too unorthodox, and unlikely to make a potential sponsor happy.

    However, now that I’ve read the note I find I’m basically in line with her. I didn’t much like Alien when it came out, and I did think of it as being like a slasher film (although Ed’s counter arguments are entirely valid), basically because I quickly got the idea that the cast was doomed to be picked off one by one, which lack of suspense to me was the most irksome part of the slasher model.

    I loved Aliens–it remains one of the great movie theater experiences of my life–and actually liked Alien 3 more than most, perhaps because I was less invested in the first film. Alien 4, or whatever it was, didn’t come together that well (I thought), but at least they were trying.

    What I find interesting about the series is that they actually tried to do new things in each movie, instead of serving up the same stuff each time. Even when this didn’t work, the sense of ambition was admirable.

    Really, my only problem doing (well, the laziness thing) is that none of the Aliens movies are really bad–unless Alien vs. Predator is; I haven’t seen that–and I wouldn’t want to strain reader good will here. However, given the response here, I’m not sure that would be a problem. This would obviously take some time to throw together; several months at least, I’m sure. However, if people would like to read such a thing, I’m certainly willing to take a stab at it.

  • Yeah, I’m not particularly inclined to see a look at the Alien movies, either, because I don’t think any of them are THAT bad. Heck, I actually LIKE Alien: Resurrection and I don’t understand why people don’t like it. Alien vs. Predator slightly suffered from a lack of Ripley, but the female lead in her place did a passable job without her and I thought it nicely tied in to both franchises and it was good for an afternoon movie viewing.

  • Chris Magyar

    Ken: to clarify my note, I agree that the Alien series doesn’t necessarily fit the stated bill of fare for Jabootu. However, response to this as well as your Jaws series proves that there’s as strong a market for your critique of good films as bad, and I’m sure your analysis of the mediocre (Alien 4) can come across as astute. (From what I understand of AvP, which I also haven’t seen, it’s genuinely dreadful, but that might have just been the opinions of fanboys.) I just wanted to plant a seed that these examinations of franchises could form the potential backbone of a marketable book (which I’d be happy to help you pitch and assemble and edit), and that if your enthusiasm extends in that direction, you could possibly earn some well-deserved payment for your hard work.

  • fishmorgjp

    These reviews of entire film series are great. This one and the JAWS one really illustrate the slippery slope of sequel-land. The ALIEN(S) series would be a great future subject… (I personally think the second one, ALIENS, cratered out immediately by being dumb, overlong, and noisy. Here’s a tuff, cigar-chompin’ Sarge! Here’s a cute widdle girl that kept out of reach of the Lovecraftian monsters! Here’s a NICE android! Here’s Ripley with super-strength!)

  • El Santo

    Ken: My favorite aspect of these reviews is the moderate conservative viewpoint. It’s frank and different and leads to some interesting digressions. (The failure of the filmmakers to distinguish between Communist USSR and Nazi Germany, for example.)

    Don’t ever change, Ken.

  • Hasimir

    I for one am already excited about your take on the Alien franchise (which I hope you’ll soon announce is in the works). Since the second film was a triumph that arguably surpassed the first, I’d very much like to hear the High Priest’s insights on why that is. If great films Jaws and Rocky produced mediocre sequels, how did Alien avoid this, and what lessons can studio bigwigs learn from it (since the average sequel indicates they didn’t)?

    On a related note, in my (admittedly limited) experience, great sequels tend to be made by the same production team that made the first film (director, screenwriter, key actors unless their charactera died in the original), such as The Godfather, Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, key cast members who didn’t die), (George Miller, Mel Gibson), or even Spiderman II (Sam Raimi, key cast members) or Terminator 2 (the Governator, James Cameron, Linda Hamilton). Sequels that lack these elements tend to be lackluster: Predator 2 (the Governator, John McTiernan), ( Cameron, Hamilton), Speed 2: Snooze Control (Keanu Reeves, Jan de Bont…okay, bad example), Die Hard 2: Die Harder (McTiernan again, Alan Rickman…yes, his character died in the previous film, but any sequel to a film featuring Rickman is hurt if it lacks him).

    There are some unimpressive sequels that did retain most of the original team (Rocky 2, Halloween 2, The Matrix Revalued), which perhaps reminds us just how difficult it is for even people with proven talent to make a good sequel. On the other hand, I can think of few cases in which a very different team produced a worthy sequel to a great film. Look at what the loss of a key cast member (Richard Dreyfuss) and director and co-screenwriter (The Spielburg) did to Jaws 2! How did Aliens manage to be so good?

    Another thing many comments have hinted at is the way you detail how most movies are very much a product of the decade in which they’re made. Even a great film like Jaws, which mostly escapes anything that screams ’70s!, has the ‘grown-up hippie’ Hooper. I think the Alien franchise is an excellent opportunity for you to highlight this aspect of movie-making, as the first three films at least were made in markedly different time periods. I recall Cameron saying in an interview from the Aliens DVD that he based the Colonial Marines’ attitude on his perception at the time of US Army soldiers during Viet Nam. I’ve no doubt you’d have more (and more interesting) insights like this about how the various espects of the decade pervade what we see on screen in a series spanning the end of the Seventies to the beginning of the 21st century (if you include AvP), to say nothing of how movie-making as an art has changed over that time! (I’m thinking of to-day’s ADHD editing or the gritty industrial look of the first film compared to the (I’ve heard) slick polish of AvP.)

  • Hasimir

    It seems two of my movie titles got et, no doubt due to my bad formatting. The Good Sequel involving Miller and Gibson is The Road Warrior, and the Lackluster Sequel lacking Cameron and Hamilton is Terminator 3: The Search for More Mon–…err, Rise of the Machines.

  • Solid Jake

    Wow, I had no idea my idle suggestion would be so popular. I must admit, my ulterior motive was that Aliens is one of my favorite movies ever and I wanted to hear Ken say nice things about it.

    But besides my neurotic need to have my opinions validated by Internet personalites, there’s also the fact that, like Jaws, Alien and Aliens are both frequently ripped off by bad movies, and there’s probably some good material there in discussing why Alien(s) works where the others don’t.

    Admittedly, I’m probably more hostile toward Alien 3 than it deserves, but needlessly and meaninglessly killing off all my favorite characters from the previous film before the opening credits even finish did little to earn my endearment.

  • PCachu

    Great. Now, thanks to Hasimir’s first comment, I have the image of Sly Stallone taking on a series of Dr. Wily’s robot flunkies.

    GET EQUIPPED WITH
    DRAGO UPPERCUT

    Hey, the Mega Man character was originally called “Rockman” in Japan. It’s not that far to “Rockyman”…

  • Jimmy

    The possibility of doing the Aliens franchise aside is there any likelihood of reviewing the last two Rocky movie as an addendum to the writeup 0f 1-4, just for completions sake? Not as a full review, maybe as a nugget or something. General concensus seems to be the fifth wasn’t quite as bad as number 4 and that the last one was actually okay so it might be interesting to look movies from a series that actually picked themselves up from previous instalments.

  • Eva Vandergeld

    Great review Ken. I think it’s a compliment to say that I was interested in the articles even though the movies were never interesting to me.

    I agree with Jimmy about doing two nugget-sized reviews of the last two films for completeness sake.

    Pip

  • Bill Hiers

    “That ‘piece of irony’ thing made me laugh even as a kid when I saw the movie in the theater.”

    Even as a kid? Really? I see this kind of claim in reviews for bad movies all the time. If it’s true then you guys as children were all smarter than I was as a boy, ’cause I tended to pretty much eat up what I saw on the screen without thinking about it too much, particularly when it came to monster movies.

    At any rate, good review. I hate propaganda of any sort in movies. I’m not unpatriotic or anything, I just feel like, if we’re such a great country, why do we need to demonize others in fictional stories? When Godzilla 1985’s English dub changed the fairly benign (if not outright likable) character of Colonel Kashirin into an “Evil Commie Warmonger,” it was one of the most disgusting things I ever saw. And that was just a minor subplot, and I don’t blame the film but the American distributors. Rocky IV is infinitely worse to me because the whole anti-Russian propaganda thing is the whole main story and unlike Godzilla 1985, which was edited into something other than what the Japanese screenwriters had intended, was intended to demonize the Russians from the get-go.

  • Well, when I say “kid” in this instance, I mean I was 22. It seems a long time ago, anyway. And I wouldn’t say smarter, certainly. I don’t think it’s surprising, though, that people who would start a site like this one might have always been a bit more analytic than most about movies.

  • UnSub

    Great write-up on “Rocky” there, especially the backstory. I feel that Stallone has, for the longest time, wanted to re-obtain the critical and public accolades that came with “Rocky” – his foray into “Copland” was an attempt to do this, but as soon as the movie didn’t do so well at the box office, he dumped it and moved back to action movies.

    As for Aliens: While I’d love to see an Aliens write-up, I feel that you can’t really group “Aliens Vs Predator” with the rest of the “Aliens” films. The “Aliens” Saga is really about Ripley (or it became so, anyway), and are extremely representative of the eras they were made. “Aliens Vs Predator” is typical of the dumb action film, but it is in many ways an Alien film in name only – the focus is more on the Predator and it is also an incredibly stupid picture. Worse than “Alien: Resurrection” imo by a long way.

    I’m not saying that Ken can’t do an “AvP” review – it’s a ripe target – just that if it is included in the Alien sage then arguably Ken should also review the Predator movies as well, since it spans both franchises.

  • El Santo

    Jimmy: I thought general consensus — among Rocky fans, film critics, and Bill “Sports Guy” Simmons — was that Rocky V was the worst installment. (Wasn’t there some hullaballoo over Stallone himself saying that “Rocky Balboa” was based on the premise that Rocky V never happened? I think the fan disappointment in “V” was the big reason why “Balboa” wasn’t named “Rocky VI.”)

    Never having seen “V”, I can’t really say anything. But perhaps it now looks better in retrospect to the generally wll received “Rocky Balboa.”

  • Jimmy

    You may be right El Santo. On the IMDB at least V does have a significantly lower rating and I can’t say I’m that familiar with the ins and outs of Rocky Fandom. It does seem like Rocky IV has more of a reputation for its goofy over the top way of being bad and is cited by movie fans more often for its memorable bits of silliness and stupidity whilst V sounds like it probably is just bad and dull.

  • Food

    Rocky V has some stuff has a roughly equal mix of really good stuff (a disquieting opening scene, and a pretty ballsy gamble to return the series to kitchen-sink drama, a real-life athlete who is actually a good actor) and really lousy stuff (a cartoonish Don King parody, the implausible reasons for Rocky [i]staying[/i] broke, the dropping of the opening scene’s plot thread before the halfway point, and a subplot with the kid that just isn’t interesting at all). I love movies like that: Half real good, half real lousy. [i]Rocky V[/i] is just a shade on the lousy side.

    [i]Rocky Balboa[/i] was better, but not by too much. It, too, is a mix of good and lousy, with good outweighting lousy by a small bit. A very good way to end the series, though.

  • Just before “Rocky Balboa” hit the theaters in Philadelphia, one of them decided to screen all the preceeding films, one a week. When they hit “Rocky III”, the “Philadelphia Weekly” wrote that: “it’s either see Mr. T now or that f*&@ing robot next week.” Nobody loves that robot, nobody.

    To all the people who noticed the “technological superiority” of the Soviets in “Rocky IV”, did you also notice that all of this technology is for the Red Army? When Rocky hits Siberia, he does so in a propeller plane (a DC-3 in fake Aeroflot livery.) The KGB guys drive late model Mercedes-Benzes (crap man, “Gorky Park” at least had real Soviet cars!) Ivan Drago is a Red Army officer; the Soviets have put a lot of effort into building this huge fighter (reminiscent of the earlier Eastwood film “Firefox”, which also had REAL RUSSIAN CARS!), if only so they can prove that the Soviet Union can produce atheletes other than suspiciously manly gymnasts and chess champions. So in this one guy we have the sports version of the Soviet space program, except that in real life, there would be a squad of Dragos (each around 5’9″ and muscled to hell thanks to steroids and fighting guys in prison, because that’s where the Soviets would get these guys.)

    “If he dies, he dies.”

  • I give this movie a pass just because of the training scenes and the fighting (as unrealistic as the boxing is in these films, it’s pretty entertaining.) The rest is dumb as Hell, but in a pleasant kind of way.

    I also think ROCKY II isn’t quite as much a step down from the first one as you argue; it’s not as naturalistic as the first, but it stays within the realm of vague plausibility, and there’s still a lot of focus on the character interactions.

    The one film in the series I’d actually call a bad movie is the fifth one. Its heart was in the right place, but it just didn’t come together dramatically. (Not sure how good a review it would make for, though- it’s such a patchwork.) ROCKY BALBOA excuses a number of sins, though.

  • Josh

    “Having Rocky’s old rival step in as his new trainer is more ‘movie logic’ than anything that would make sense in real life, but there you go.”

    Just thought you would find this amusing.

    http://www.thesweetscience.com/boxing-article/5055/ward-combatant-now-cornerman-gatti/

    I loved the article/blog…even as a huge fan of the series, I recognize its many flaws.

  • nice site you have, thanks for sharing, have a look at http://badmovieknights.com/ when you get time :>

  • Zandor Vorkov

    Of all the Rocky films, IV is the least necessary. Rocky grew as a character in the first three films from some chump who can punch, to a champion, to someone undone by his own arrogance.* Rocky V, though we could have done without it, at least gave the character some different things to do by stripping away his wealth and giving him a protoge.** I can’t comment on the sixth, since I haven’t seen it.

    Rocky IV, however, is purely a cash-in sequel; it’s pointless. It is a lot of fun, though, and is pretty good junk-food cinema.

    *(I really think Rocky III should have ended with Rocky retiring after his defeat by Clubber Lang, finding himself content with coming from nowhere, getting to the top, and staying there as long as he did. This would have truly completed the logical character arc. Of course, Clubber couldn’t have been a villain for this approach to work. He’d have to have been a hard training, dedicated boxer, someone we could root for, just like Rocky. And, obviously, he couldn’t have killed Mickey, though Mickey could have died of other causes.)

    **(Having Tommy Gunn turn on Rocky was another misstetp, in my humble opinion. I’d have played the premise out to its conclusion: Rocky’s training taking Tommy to the top. Rocky, in essence, would have become Mickey.)

  • Mark Jackson

    The ridiculous thing about Rocky IV (okay, the MOST ridiculous thing) is the fact that he wins the fight. Really, the whole message, seems to be that Russians and Americans aren’t too dissimilar. American fans treat Drago like crap, Apollo treats Drago like crap, Russian fans treat Rocky like crap, Drago and his entourage treat Rocky like crap. And so on.

    So it seems to me the Sly, at some point, was pointing out the hypocrisy of Americans for treating the Russians with such disdain and then complaining when the Russians treated them the same way in return.

    But, after all that, America is triumphant. If he really wanted to give this message, he would have made it a draw, but of course the audience wouldn’t want that. Furthermore, the Russian takes steroids. Why? Because that’s the only way a damned filthy Russian could ever give Rocky a beating at all, even if he does lose in the end.

    So Stallone portrays this villainous image of the Russians, but then forgives them ONLY when they cotton on to the American dream (cheering for Rocky). It really is a revolting, racist film.

  • Well, “racist” is the wrong word, because the Soviets aren’t a ‘race.’ The film does, as I noted, exhibit its appalling hypocrisy in wanting to demonzie the Soviet State and then going for some ludicrous peacenik bit at the end.

  • brandywine

    Stallone has a sense of humor about his career. This is a sketch from when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1997 where he helps a car accident victim who won’t stop insulting his films.

    http://snltranscripts.jt.org/97/97awreck.phtml

    “Great. I don’t know which is worse: being in this accident, or being helped by the star of ‘Judge Dredd'”

    And I can’t believe you didn’t mention his porn film:

    http://www.snopes.com/movies/actors/stallone.asp

    And here’s a gay parody of Rocky III.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JGSKjvpfBY

    And this is about Carl Weather’s other career defining role (Third from the bottom):

    http://www.answers.com/topic/list-of-arrested-development-characters

  • brandywine

    Oh! Oh! I forgot to add, “Family Guy” has had TWO Rocky IV references.

    THE ROBOT!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSQ38KROGUI

    Here’s Brian doing the training montage (after the clip of the real one!)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOfVX4oE-PQ

  • Edda

    Oddly enough, since sports films don’t count as thrillers, most of the films counted as Stallone’s most successful do not count as thrillers (i.e. the Rocky series).

    Nighthawks would have to count as Stallone’s first starring role in a thriller film.

  • Tony

    Okay, Rocky IV isn’t a great movie by any means and it does feel like a 90 min music video. However it is a very entertaining one at that. On a pure physical level it’s the most motivating movie ever made and i can watch it over and over again and for that i say it’s a good movie.

    Peace

  • Edda

    “If there was a movie or TV project in the ‘80s that actually predicted that the USSR would fall before America did, I can’t think of it off the top of my head.”

    Not a TV or movie project, but Donald James had published a novel called the Fall of the Russian Empire in 1982.

    http://www.amazon.com/Fall-Russian-Empire-Donald-James/dp/0399126899

  • Shawn

    I have to think that if Muhammad Ali (who Apollo Creed is loosely based) had been killed in an exhibition fight by a towering white male while the referee was taking a smoke break and his white retarded friend didn’t throw in the towel that most of Detroit, Chicago and LA would have burned to the ground that night. Just saying.
    Too bad they didn’t show the difference in lifestyles why they were making this movie. Rocky has his big house, cars and robot and Drago has a three bedroom apartment. You have to admit, Drago is the most cookie cutter opponent that was ever in these movies. He has no back story at all, he just is there to be the bad guy. Obviously he is there to show superior strength or whatever but couldn’t he have done that by knocking Apollo out in the second round. I mean, he and Rocky went 400 rounds in the first 2 movies, if Drago just knocked him out in three that would be pretty damn impressive. Of course we wouldn’t have a movie then but we really don’t have much of one now.

    I have to say one more thing, just watching a little bit of the movie here on my computer. The major problem with this movie, all the characters are caricatures of their former selves. Paulie just mouths off, Rocky just loves his family, Apollo just wants to be in the ring but why. Where is the struggle here that was in the last three films? Who do I root for here?

  • John Nowak

    Oddly and very obscurely, there was at least one other bit of fiction which postulated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    In the 1980s, Steve Jackson Games had a product named Car Wars, a future history game set in the 2030s (fifty years ahead of “now”]. The Soviet Union had collapsed.

  • Eddie80

    Regarding Rambo III as Stallone’s last big hit-well, the budget for that film (without or without Stallone’s salary, it amounted to the most expensive film at that point in time) actually pulled the rug out from under its success. That may explain why a third sequel did not follow for almost decades.

  • Mark

    Great review as always. I’d also like to see Ken write more reviews of good movies as he’s very good at it. Also, more reviews of ‘popular’ bad movies would be good. I like the B-movies, but in a way it’s far more unforgivable for a big budget movie to screw it all up so badly, as they have far more ‘talent’ at their disposal.

    A final point: I’d love to see Ken follow up this series of reviews by taking on Rocky V. In my opinion that film is even worse than the fourth installment simply because it’s so depressing. Some things about the fifth film that always make me laugh out loud when I think about them:

    – Rocky’s son aging by about five years (again) when he gets home from Russia.

    – His house completely changing from what he left before he went to fight Drago (what happened to the robot???)

    – The clumsy way they get him to lose his fortune.

    – The clumsy ways they block all logical ways for him to get some money back (“nope, can’t do commercials, people will find out he used to beat people up on the orders of a lone shark” – wouldn’t this be in the news anyway? And would anyone really care?) Why not write an autobiography or appear on numerous chat shows to at least bring in some cash?

    – The fact that Adrian and Rocky pull their old clothes from the first film out of storage boxes and start wearing them again.

    – The fact that Adrian gets her old job at the pet shop back.

    – the scenes where Tommy is beating up a string of opponent… it seems like the guy has about 50 fights in one year, unlike most real-life boxers who have about two.

    – The awful, Don King-inspired Duke character who is so overplayed by the actor that he’s one step away from being a comedy villain.

    – The fact that they move into Paulie’s old house (“good job I kept it, hey Rock?”)

    – The flashbacks with Mickey in, which were obviously filmed specially for this movie as the character is clearly close to death and has trouble speaking.

    – The laughable fight outside the bar where the TV cameras show up yet the cops don’t arrive until Rocky has won.

    Oh… there’s so much stuff in this film to make fun of!

  • Jason

    I just read every word of that, and got some great belly laughs. Damn, the author has a real flair for writing, it’s an enormous pleasure to read.

  • Tommy

    It is so agonizingly obvious that the person who wrote these reviews hasn’t seen Rocky-Rocky IV, I feel humiliated for him. The entire point of the franchise completely went over his head and he is apparently incapable of understanding anything which uses symbolism and metaphor to get the point across. None of the reasons stated for trash talking the franchise were valid. “Rocky” is the only good film Stallone ever had? Yeah and The Godfather is the only good film Marlon Brando ever did. What an absolute, ignorant fool this reviewer is. It’s not surprising though. I have yet, in all my hears of living, to meet ONE person who can provide a real, legitimate reason that makes any sense whatsoever for trash talking the series, so I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything different this time around.

  • Mr. Rational

    I feel humiliated for you, Tommy. It’s pretty obvious you have no idea who Ken is.

    “The entire point of the franchise completely went over his head…

    What do you think that point is, then? I read through your response, and I didn’t see an alternate point of view presented. Y’know, if you’re going to say somebody has no idea what they’re talking about, it would sort of make sense to tell them what they missed. Since you didn’t, I am going to assume you have no answer, and are merely trolling.

    “…and he is apparently incapable of understanding anything which uses symbolism and metaphor to get the point across.”

    This should be corrected to read “and he is apparently incapable of suffering bad symbolism and stupid metaphor in silence.” You’re welcome for the correction…it’s just how I roll.

    “‘Rocky’ is the only good film Stallone ever had? Yeah and The Godfather is the only good film Marlon Brando ever did.”

    Umm…Ken never said Rocky was the only good movie Stallone ever did. He said it was the only REALLY good movie — that is, the only CLASSIC film — Stallone ever did. And he’s right. Name one other classic Stallone film. Not even any of the Rambo movies can fairly count as classics…they’re just entertaining popcorn flicks. Perhaps you believe that cinematic dross like Judge Dredd or Spy Kids 3-D counts as a really good film. In which case, I pity you.

    “I have yet, in all my hears of living, to meet ONE person who can provide a real, legitimate reason that makes any sense whatsoever for trash talking the series…”

    In all your hears of living? First off, if you’re over twenty, I’d be as mightily surprised as I was disappointed in the educational system that produced you. Second, in all my sees of surfing the web, and all my smells of reading comments, I have never come across anyone who seems quite as dense as you. Ken laid out his reasons very plainly. Rocky was, quite simply, one of the finest movies ever made. The vast majority of its sequels represent increasingly desperate cash-in attempts that impugn the integrity of the original film. That IS his point, and that IS reason enough to trash-talk the series as a whole, especially the celluloid abominations that are parts IV and V.

    So, if you decide to come back here at all, here’s what we’d all like you to do. First, come up with an ARTICULATE response that engages Ken’s review in legitimate debate. “This guy doesn’t agree with me, ergo, he’s an idiot and a meanie and generally a big poopy-pants” is not gonna cut it. Second, speaking of that, lay off the ad hominems. They demean you and everyone who reads them. Finally, you should probably learn that “Tommy’s taste” does not automatically equal “indisputably correct standard of aesthetic interpretation,” and I’d like to see proof of that learned lesson manifest in any rebuttal. M’kay?

    C’mon, Tommy boy. Step up and take your whoopin’.

  • ProfessorKettlewell

    Mr. Rational, as much as I cracked up with glee at your response…..don’t feed the trolls. It only encourages them.

  • Mr. Rational

    I take umbrage to that remark, Professor. I have no idea what you’re t — oooh, wait a sec…

    :::hides bag of troll food:::

    As I was saying, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Mr. Rational

    And I’m just realizing that should have been “umbrage AT that remark.” This is what I get for being distracted while writing my comments, and then not proofing them before posting. I am shamed before the great god Jabootu.

  • Marsden

    Hi, read this and loved it, Of course. I’ve yet to come across an article on this site that wasn’t worth the read.

    I also liked Mr. Rational’s recent troll feeding, err, posting. :) Maybe we just need an edit button, or is that too much tech?

    Actually, I’m sorry I don’t post more, but usually I don’t feel like I’ve really got anything good to add or I’d have a “good job” post on just about everything.

  • extremepenguin

    “…it’s weirdly unusual to see a character praying in an American film (especially when he’s not a heavily sweating serial killer flagellating himself before murdering his next prostitute)…”

    My god, that was wonderful. I’m frequently bringing that point up in various movie-related conversations, but I could never have stated it that perfectly.^_^

  • Alan

    I like the review but am put off by Ken’s constant flag waving. Same as his Superman Quest for Peace review. I’m a Yank myself, but all this stuff about James Brown’s bit showing the greatness of America up on screen? It’s the worst of America up on screen – arrogance, load mouthed cockiness, mass jingoism.

    Also, the comment about Japanese people being short. Yeah it’s a joke but it’s the sort of narrow minded insult that I actually find offensive.

    Shame really because I enjoy Ken’s writing.

  • Alan, I have a couple of suggestions. You could read the 95% of the reviews here that don’t cover material like that–because the films they review don’t feature such stuff to start with–or, if you really find it bothersome, you can go to one of the zillions of other websites out there where instead you’ll come across random jokes knocking George Bush or Rush Limbaugh.

    For myself, I will keep proudly waving that flag. I mean, why wouldn’t I? Also, I was offended by your remark about finding my comment about Japanese people being short offensive. So, you know, I guess we’re even now.

  • alex

    I always saw Ivan Drago as an anti-villain. He’s being manipulated by Ludmilla and Koloff who are the real villains in the movie. Drago was probably trained and supervised from a young age by the Soviet government. He’s a prisoner. Only at the end when he declares: ‘I win for me! For me!’ does he redeems himself and becomes a free man. And not suprisingly that’s when the Soviet crowd turns on him.

    I think Drago was ordered to kill Apollo. Notice after the match when he delivers his lines ( I cannot be defeated, I beat all man, if he dies he dies) wich were obviously fed to him by his handlers there his a sad look in his eyes. And when he looks at Rocky I don’t see defiance, he seems sorry for what happened. Go watch that scene again, you’ll see.

    Also before fighting Rocky he says ‘I must break you’. Notice he says ‘must’ not ‘will’. He’s telling Rocky this is not personal, he’s following orders. The way I see it Drago threw the fight after he rebelled against his handlers. There was nothing for him to win by beating Rocky. After saying ‘I win for me’ Drago was a free man. That was his real fight.

  • alex

    About your aftertoughts section Ken you are way too hard on Stallone. Granted he made more bad movies than good ones but except for Arnold I can’t think of any action stars of that era that made as many good movies as Sly. I think Rocky 3 and 4 were very entertaining as was his Dirty Harry remake Cobra. They were well made formula films who delivered what the audience wanted. I’ll take Cobra over any Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer crap.

    Among Sly’s best films,Nighthawks and First Blood are excellent and his recent Rambo 4 is a superb war movie. I also think that Rambo 2 is a perfect war-action movie. I consider it his best film and the best action movie of the 80s.

  • Tommy

    Mr. Rational (what an ironic screen name),

    First and foremost, your ridiculously presumptuous attitude impresses no one and I am proud to say my education did not come from some watered down, government mandated institute–in other words I wasn’t brainwashed or indoctrinated.

    In regards to these so called “reviews,” what is lacking sorely is journalistic integrity. Your lame attempts at ridicule are too dull and utterly laughable to even really respond to on an individual basis.

    Yes, I meant precisely what I said; the point of the franchise did go over his head. It goes over most people’s heads. You are viewing the surface of it all.

    I am not interested in the incoherent ramblings of uninformed and ignorant pseudo-intellectuals such as yourself, the poster of this review and too many others to name.

    You, like many others, see Rocky Balboa as nothing more than a naive or simple minded pugilist, but others who are passionate about the franchise and who truly understand the profound nature of the story and its characters–especially the titular one–knows that Rocky is an ideology placed inside the body of a boxer; an existentialist operating on mythological platform, rooted within the constructs of reality.

    His battles, trials and tribulations; the triumphs and tragedies all transcend the dynamics of the boxing ring. From a literal standpoint there is so much more to the story than the damned “boxing” which people seem to get so hung up on, but metaphorically speaking, it is extraordinary. The first film represents humanity’s battle with life (being the unbeatable enemy, much as Apollo Creed was to Rocky Balboa in the original film). We know it’s not something that can be physically overcome, but what matters is how we have lived, how we have dealt with the obstacles thrown in our paths, etc and in the end, when that final bell rings (metaphorically speaking here), we will know what we are made of, as our characters will have been tested, and we may have a shot at having a little self respect. It is a marvelous celebration of the human spirit and an exploration of a diverse love story.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion and if people want to view Rocky IV and Rocky V in the typical light others do, then go for it, but they have their merits just as the others do. Rocky IV was the biggest departure. Most people seem to dismiss it as a display of 1980s excess at its worst; a jingoistic “good” America v.s. “evil” Russia, and nothing could be further from the truth. People don’t seem to realize what the world was like in 1985. We were still in the midst of the Cold War and Ivan Drago is the embodiment of the abominable enemy people were terrified to get close to, had there ever been a physical conflict. The anger, hatred, fear and anxiety which was fueled by many propagated sources were all exercised in the story. Sylvester Stallone cleverly explores the nature of government deception and mass manipulation by the media. Although Ivan Drago’s despicable action of killing Apollo Creed and being absolutely remorseless about it does not go excused, once he and Rocky are face to face, it becomes a clear and simple, man against man, human being against human being situation, as opposed to a sensationalized, distorted perception of each other and their respective nations through the eyes of falsehood spreading machine. I could go on about this, but I believe I’ve said enough to make my point.

    The negativity toward Rocky V has always baffled me. It brought the story back to its roots and, while not as great as Rocky Balboa, really brought back the humanity of the first couple of films and the love story aspect of the saga continues as Rocky inadvertently begins to discard the very thing he is trying to save, by placing an enormous amount of stock in the success of his protege. I’m not going to go into every nook and cranny of Rocky V, but the bottom line is this: there is much more to it than meets the eye.

  • In regards to these so called “reviews,” what is lacking sorely is journalistic integrity.

    Uhm…

  • The Rev.

    I don’t have much to say here; I just wanted one of these to reach 100 comments, and I wanted to be the one to do it.

    Oh, I have to admit that Tommy calling someone an “uninformed and ignorant pseudo-intellectual” was hilariously hypocritical, considering how big and important and smart he considers himself and his opinions, in comparison to how much idiotic nonsense flowed out of his fingers.

  • Tommy

    @TheRev

    “Oh, I have to admit that Tommy calling someone an “uninformed and ignorant pseudo-intellectual” was hilariously hypocritical, considering how big and important and smart he considers himself and his opinions”

    Interesting. Having convictions and sticking to one’s guns is an indication of having a superiority complex? Very interesting indeed. I was asked to elaborate and describe precisely what I find profound about the franchise and I did.

    “in comparison to how much idiotic nonsense flowed out of his fingers.”

    Oh of course. Of course it’s idiotic. No legitimate explanation as to what, in particular, is idiotic about what I said though. So typical. Believe it or not, there is a lot more to things than the mere surface, which is what you and others like you are hung up on. Just because you can’t see why lies beneath, doesn’t mean it’s an empty void.

    Really quick, let’s break down the words I used that you seem to feel were unwarranted. “Uninformed”-Those who speak excessively negative about the franchise may have seen a few of the films once, but they didn’t take the time to really understand what they were watching or how the story works. “Ignorant”–more or less on par with “uninformed.” It’s not a euphemism for stupid. It’s meant literally. Simply put, most of the people here just don’t get it. “Pseudo-intellectual”–a type of person that is typically blinded by their bloated sense of self importance. They are the ones who have superiority complexes and who speak with exaggerated and animated mannerism (or in this case, “write”) who tend to be overly opinionated, while merely subscribing to whatever school of thought is generally accepted–not usually to facts or possibilities.

    Do you get it? Does it make sense? What is interesting to me is you can’t seem to handle the fact that I will not conform to your way of thinking.

  • Tommy

    Correction of a typo: “just because you can’t see *WHAT* lies beneath”

    (I’m sure at this point The Rev will swoop in and ignore every single thing I’ve said and write grammar police-esque thesis, while conveniently ignoring the commonality of typos, especially when there is no option to edit a post).

  • Mr. Rational

    Oh, wow. Somebody knocked my handle. “Hey, dude, you think you’re Mr. Rational. Well, I don’t think you’re Rational at all! And maybe not even a Mister! So how do you like them apples, huh?” I like those apples, Tommy. I like ’em fine. Especially since the rest of your comment calls your ability to judge what is “rational” into doubt.

    My attitude actually impressed a couple people, if you read the comments above yours. So you may be an unwitting solipsist. You also appear not to have received an actual education, at least not in the area of reading comprehension. So I don’t really care whether you went to public school, private school, home school, or the School of Hard Knocks. Wherever it was…it failed you, buddy.

    “I am not interested in the incoherent ramblings of uninformed and ignorant pseudo-intellectuals such as yourself, the poster of this review and too many others to name.”

    You’re interested enough to spend your time responding to us. I have to think that if you REALLY weren’t interested, you would have treated us the same way I treat the Flat Earth Society — I leave them alone. (Also, you seem to be ignorant of the meaning of the word “incoherent.” If you could understand me, I was coherent.)

    “…Rocky is an ideology placed inside the body of a boxer; an existentialist operating on mythological platform, rooted within the constructs of reality.”

    Wow. And I’m a pseudo-intellectual? You’re, like, the best LOLcat ever. “I can haz buzzwords?” Yes, you can, Tommy. This is the age of Obama. Yes. You. Can.

    Not that you’re entirely wrong here, mind you. A common feature of most great fictional works is that their heroes and villains can be taken as proxies for some particular aspect of humanity, or even for the general human condition itself. The below passage is from your comment:

    “We know [life is] not something that can be physically overcome, but what matters is how we have lived, how we have dealt with the obstacles thrown in our paths, etc…”

    Very true. I’d say that’s a fair description of the “meaning” of Rocky Balboa. For comparison, please read this quote from the review that you have spent so much time savaging:

    “Even if he can’t win the fight, he wants to prove that he isn’t beaten, either. He wants to show that he can take everything life can throw at him, and still remain standing.”

    Wow. It seems like Ken got the point just fine. He just chose to phrase it in a different way, talking within the context of the work as opposed to talking about it. And if you actually READ his review, and GOT it, you would have known that.

    As for the 80’s, brother, I was alive in ’85, and I know a little something about that world. And you’re STILL dead wrong about Rocky IV. Not that I disagree with some of what you have to say, necessarily — Drago being “the embodiment of the abominable enemy,” for example — but if you really believe that any of Rocky IV is “rooted within the constructs of reality,” you’re delusional. It DEFIES reality. Successful allegories can be read on two levels, the literal and the mythical. What makes Rocky a great allegory is that it succeeds in both. What makes Rocky IV a bad allegory is that it succeeds in neither.

    Ken has dealt admirably with the ridiculous “literal” level of the story — where both Rocky and Drago absorb superhuman levels of punishment, where the American press corps is actually cheering Rocky on, where people who train in crap facilities actually have an edge on the people who train in high-tech facilities, and so forth. You would likely excuse all of this, saying that what REALLY matters is the “message” of the story. That we should think about the punishment as spiritual instead of physical; that we should read the press corps as a stand-in for American attitudes toward Soviet Russia; that the whole training thing is a metaphor for purity of the spirit, or something like that. Fine.

    But you don’t get to have it both ways. Because if you’re going to insist, as you are, on us reading the subtext of the film rather than its text — because “there is a lot more to things than the mere surface, which is what you and others like you are hung up on” — then you CANNOT sustain the reading of the film that you prefer. You speak of the final fight as “a clear and simple, man against man, human being against human being situation.” Bull. You don’t get that one.

    Rocky and Drago are meant to be proxies for their respective nations. Everything about the movie is meant to be read in this context, and the movie very clearly sends one message for most of its length — “USA good, USSR bad.” Drago kills Apollo because the Soviets are cold-blooded, ruthless, and play for total victory. Rocky sacrifices his belt to avenge his friend because Americans believe in doing the right thing, no matter the cost. Rocky trains in the great outdoors, and Drago trains in a high-tech gym with steroid shots — the American spirit is natural and pure, the Soviet spirit is artificial and impure. Rocky is “like a piece of iron” to Drago, signaling the indomitable strength of the American will. Rocky starts to win over the crowd in Moscow because in a battle of ideas, American ideas will win. THEY. ARE. PROXIES.

    For 95% of the film, the metaphor has been jingoistic. (And let me add, I have no problem with jingoism. America is AWESOME.) Then Stallone throws out “Everybody can change!” at the end of the fight, and you point to that as the true meaning of the film — that this is about two men throwing off their indoctrination and truly taking the measure of each other. It is not. Stallone’s final speech is a betrayal of everything that came before, and a cowardly sellout. It seems to offer compromise and co-existence. The problem: There is no possible compromise between a land that believes in individual freedom and a land that believes in being yoked to the state! Rocky, as a self-made man, represents the essence of America. Drago, as a state-made man, represents the essence of the Soviet Union. They fight. America wins. End of story, game over, tip your waitress on your way out.

    As to Rocky V, it does indeed succeed in being better than Rocky IV. Then again, Sylvester Stallone simply sitting in front of a camera and READING us the script to Rocky V would have made for a better movie than Rocky IV, so it’s not like that’s saying much. Suffice it to say that while I think you have identified the metaphor of that film correctly, the actual plot once again fails. It wasn’t until the comparative (emphasis on that word) return to realism of Rocky Balboa that Stallone made a Rocky flick good enough to send his character out on.

  • John81

    I find your review spot on! Even though I actually liked the film when I first watched it when i was a kid, and it somehow gripped me as I am sure it did many other kids, you are completely right from a more critical and rightfully cynical point of view, it really is a load of propaganda drivel. If it shows anything it shows just how fickle people really are, which they are. Unfortunately that is all it demonstrates, albeit in unbelievable circumstances where even people wouldn’t be that fickle! so in that sense the film does make a point even if it wasn’t the point it intended! lol? the people who aren’t so fickle tend to be equally bad for another reason. They stubbornly cling to outdated prejudiced viewpoints and opinions which usually err on the side of hate.

  • SNOWWMAN

    Its amazing how dumb Americans are….in one of the pics, they show you a black coach on Soviet team…During Soviet times the only place where they could see a black person is only in TV

  • I love your reviews Ken BUT I do disagree with a lot of your politics, you seem to have a lot of respect for Reagan and it makes sense as most people coming up in the 80s had that Republican mindset and you served in the military in the 80s (though I find it interesting that some people who serve become more disillusioned by the Government and the President of the time while others becomes more patriotic).

    For me Reagan was just an old idiot, someone who was President for far too long and someone who wanted to be John Wayne so hard, I think calling the Soviets a Nation of Evil is just such a gross over simplification of the actual problem and just set up the kind of us vs them 80s patartiosim that led to movies like this in the first place. Add the Iran/Contra scandals, him joking about starting a nuclear war with USSR like it was some kind of humorous aside… him either being completely senile and ignorant during the Iran/Contra dealings OR being heavily involved in criminal activity that made WaterGate look like small fry…

    I mean C’MON, OUR boys got killed because Regan was giving the Contra’s WAY too much firepower and they DID release the hostages but then just grabbed more of them, so effectively Regan (or the people around him in the White House) HURT American through that bullshit. I just hate everything Regan stands for, the Star Wars program, the cutdowns on support systems for poor people, ranking up drug charges and longer prison terms, his terribly short termed Economic plan, his love of the Religious Right and big corporations…. and his extremely snake like, oil-salesman sleazy personality and charisma. I just HATE Regan and its hard for me to look at it from your point of view Ken… but you are obviously extremely intelligent and have logically, thought out reasons for your opinions and I’m not saying I’m RIGHT or your wrong but rather trying to share my opinions on the matter and my befuddlement at your respect for a man who listened to a psychic advisor that his wife found for him.

  • “It’s got all the dramatic gravitas of a WWF match.”

    Aye c’mon now, wrestling can be really fucking good and dramatic!