Rocky IV is a film that renders its time period in red, white, and blue magic markers. Good and evil, right and wrong. The movie is brazenly simple, unfailingly sincere and if you don't shed a tear for Apollo, you might be a Commie.
Like so many of us, I was a kid who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. Not Jack Kennedy's we-all-own-a-bomb-shelter Cold War. More like Reagan's Star Wars, silent submarines, there's-no-point-in-a-bomb-shelter, Red Dawn brand of Cold War. And the first time you hear "Burning Heart" by Survivor, you’ll know exactly what this movie is about. Us versus Them. So, let’s talk about the four reasons you need to love it.
Number One: The Soundtrack
The Rocky IV soundtrack propels this movie into the 80's stratosphere. Trust me, if you’ve got an important day on the horizon, do yourself a favor and load up that iPod with “Hearts On Fire,” “No Easy Way Out,” and, of course, “Training Montage.” As soon as they’re coursing through your headphones, you’ll be ready to bust through walls Kool-Aid Man style and tell your wife, “No! I will not go see that Justin Bieber movie!”
Number Two: Drago as Frankenstein
Balboa and Ivan Drago personify their respective countries. Rocky Balboa is the son of an immigrant. Once doughy and poorly dressed, now chiseled, heavily altered by plastic surgery, and losing touch with his meager beginnings as he drowns in money. He is brash and jumps into ill-advised decisions. However, he does so based on what he believes is right and, most importantly, he doesn’t know how to quit (despite the fact that he's running headlong toward brain damage). The Soviet Union is represented by a juiced-up monster with a blonde flat-top. He’s an automaton, easily confused by the things going on around him and borderline frightened of James Brown. Ivan Drago is Soviet Frankenstein; created with chemicals, supplements, and shiny chrome technology. Tell me you aren’t constantly worried someone will strike a match and send him into a mindless rampage. It is also fairly clear that Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) is the Bride of Frankenstein, genetically engineered to be his identical female counterpart, complete with blonde flat-top. This brings us to the secondary theme that runs throughout the film.
Number Three: Man vs. Machine
In his gym full of cutting edge technology, surrounded by a team of scientists and technicians, injected with what we would assume are anabolic steroids, Ivan Drago has been constructed by his government according to a carefully devised plan. Meanwhile, Balboa dials it back to his roots in the best training montage of the Rocky series. Running through the snow while being chased by bumbling KGB agents, using stones and wooden carts and even his friends as resistance; all he lacks is a frozen side of beef to pound into oblivion.
Also falling into this category is a ridiculously awesome birthday gift: Paulie’s “pleasure bot.” Robots were huge in the 80’s and this one made quite an impression on me. This thing was apparently a genuine, operational robot named SICO, a member of SAG, and toured with James Brown after the movie was released. I’m not joking. My favorite moment with the robot is during the finale. Rocky’s son wasn’t brought along to Moscow for the fight. Rocky, Paulie, and Adrian are all in Russia. So, if you’ll notice, the Balboas apparently felt so good about the robot, they left it alone to watch their son and his friends. But, it looks like the kids (and SICO) are having a good time, so who can complain?
Number Four: Balboa Triggers the Collapse of Communism
Mark it down: Rocky IV got the ball rolling. This film was released in November, 1985. The moment Rocky cuts Drago and turns the entire Russian crowd against their own freakish cyborg and over to his side (including Fake Gorbachev), a groundswell had begun that couldn't be reversed. Four years later, in November, 1989, the Berlin Wall comes down. Coincidence? Hardly. So, remember the words that started it all:
“During this fight... I seen a lot of changing. The way you felt about me...and the way I felt about you. In here...there were two guys... killing each other. But I guess that's better than a million. What I'm trying to say is........................... if i can change... and you's can change... everybody can change!"
Amen, Rock. Amen.