Creed, the new film in the Rocky saga has been met with near unanimous praise for it’s heart, characters and the fresh approach to the formula. It’s hard to believe that a film of such integrity and realism is just two installments ahead of the unpardonable drivel that is Rocky IV.
For those who don’t know, Rocky IV is the one with the Russian. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a boxer and amateur champion from the Soviet Union has the nerve to want to compete at a professional level. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) for some reason let’s his xenophobia get the better of him and wants to fight this Russian for some reason never made explicitly clear. An exhibition match is scheduled between the two and Drago, like the evil cowardly Russian he is, kills Creed in the ring. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), who apparently is still world champion even though he doesn’t seem to have any fights lines up and is mooching around his mansion, wants revenge and challenges Drago to a championship fight on Christmas day in Russia. Rocky wins. The End.
Oh how I hate this film. Not only do I hate it, I hate what it did to the series.
For years Rocky IV tarnish the franchise in many people’s minds as corny Americana and a hokey heroism, not a story about subtlety or confidence it started as. Stallone directs this piece of propaganda in the most insipid and pandering manner. Any shred of tenderness and humanity the series had is gone completely and is replaced by macho chest thumping, corny synth music and endless montages. Our hero, Rocky has nothing of the sweetness we know and love. Rocky should be above all this posturing and political showboating. Yes he’s the everyman hero but never in an “us against them” kind of way.
Ivan Drago is not a character. He is just there to be the hissable villain. He even uses steroids because, you know, Russians are evil cheaters. The level of humanity given to the antagonists in Rocky, Rocky Balboa and Creed is completely absent. It would have been nice to see him depicted like a Russian Rocky. A young fighter who has no confidence but pressured by his government to perform. Make him a reluctant poster boy for Communism thus creating a mutual bond between the two fighters.
And this is what annoys me the most. If this film had any balls it would have not made it a good v evil story. The Americans should have also been the villains and forced Rocky to be just as patriotic as Drago while depicting both boxers being only passionate about their art. Rocky IV even hints at this when Mrs. Creed and Mrs. Drago have a brief exchange about becoming friends because their husbands are sportsmen, not soldiers. That’s the film Stallone should have made. There was a real opportunity here to show how politics can interfere with sporting events and how athletes themselves can be above such flag waving foolery. Even if Creed died in the ring at least make Drago express some regret and not act like a Bond henchman. A good film would have at least acknowledged some sort of empathy. All Rocky IV gives us is two action figures in a slugfest with not a shred of humanity to be seen.
Some may laugh because I expect more from a Rocky film. It’s not unreasonable, especially for anyone who has actually seen the first Rocky film. The theme of confidence so prevalent in the first, and to a lesser extent, second and third films are replaced by macho posturing and shallow characterisations. While the sixth and seventh films would recover these elements, the damage was done.
Everyone, including Stallone, thinks that the fifth Rocky is the worst. It is indeed a crushing bore. The previous instalment however is a whole other level of awful and does not get nearly as much a bashing as it deserves. I get the whole “so bad it’s good” concept. A View to a Kill, Commando and Taffin are great fun and I watch them regularly. But believe it or not, there are some films that are just so bad they are awful. Rocky IV is one of those films. Even as a youngster I couldn’t really enjoy it and watching it again as a grown up irritated me even more. It fails as a sequel, as a sports movie, as a political commentary and as a narrative in general.
And where the hell did Rocky get a robot butler from?!