“If I can change, and youse can change, EVERYBODY CAN CHANGE!” Rocky Balboa, December 25, 1985
History tells us the Cold War ended in the early 1990s But anyone who grew up in the 1980s knows Rocky Balboa ended the Cold War with his fists on a cold Christmas Day in 1985 when he chopped down the Siberian Bull, Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV. In Rocky III, Balboa overcame his fear and self-doubt as well as the loss of his trainer/father figure, Mickey, to regain the World Heavyweight Championship from Clubber Lang with the help of his former nemesis/new best friend Apollo Creed. In Rocky IV, Rocky must return the favor when Creed asks him to stand in his corner “one last time.” Creed must fight for America’s honor (and against Father Time) when Drago, an amateur Soviet wrecking machine, comes to America looking to dominate the professional ranks. Though Rocky knows Creed is more interested in proving to himself that he’s not over the hill, Rocky reluctantly agrees to train him…. YADA, YADA, YADA. We’ve all seen the movie. We all know what happens. Apollo dies. Rocky does a bunch of music videos and chops some trees. Paulie gets a sweet robot, reads comics that improve fertility, and misses the Rose Bowl. Rocky beats Drago and brings Moscow to its feet! Suddenly Moscow is pro-Rocky and pro-Capitalism! Merry Christmas, kid!
(Poster via Jason-Edmiston)
Rocky I, II, V, and Rocky Balboa were, to varying degrees, grounded in reality, Rocky III and IV were more like the stereotypical over-the-top early 1980s action movies that made Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and their ilk household names. Though Rocky III was released in 1983, Rocky IV feels like the ‘80s Rocky thanks to Vince DiCola’s love affair with synthesizers. Rumor has it he was the one who introduced Eddie Van Halen to the synthesizer, thus giving birth to Van Hagar.
Rocky IV is the big, dumb lug of the franchise. Rocky I and II were better films, but they were too long. Rocky V was a travesty. Rocky Balboa was a worthy finale to the series (I’m not including Creed since it’s a spinoff), but it lacked a compelling opponent. Rocky III and IV are neck and neck as my favorite entries. I love that I can turn either one on at any point in the movie and be glued to the TV for the rest of it.
My wife was kind enough to watch Rocky IV with me in preparation for this Shitmas entry. She had never seen it before and, as we watched, we started coming up with nagging questions, some of which had never occurred to me, and some schtick:
Are Paulie and his robot in love?
Why does “Rich Paulie” still look trashy?
Why does Rocky sound semi-intelligent when he gets rich in Rocky III but then sound dumb again after he loses his money in Rocky V?
Why does Rocky’s kid age like 5 years between Rocky III and V even though the movies are about a year apart?
Why did Rocky’s house change between Rocky 4 and Rocky 5?
Does anyone wear Hugo Boss anymore?
Whatever happened to Rocky’s dog Butkus and Rocky’s turtles Cuff and Link?
Wouldn’t it be great if Ivan Drago’s ring came out of the ground and he was in Buffalo Bill’s well? “It puts the grease on its skin or else James Brown sings again.”
What does America have to do with a paper mache bull?
Paulie is wearing Hugo Boss and he still looks dirty, like a dark ring around the bathtub.
What did the skulls have to do with Apollo’s fight with Drago? Other than foreshadowing?
What was the deal with the ring announcer’s mustache?
If this movie took place today Rocky would have been sued by Apollo’s wife for not throwing the towel fast enough and Drago would have been arrested after the fight.
Even in a suit and tie Paulie looks dirty.
Why did Rocky rev his engine in his own driveway?
What was Rocky doing in between his press conference and when he got home? He sounds drunk but he always sounds drunk.
I’m not sure I follow Rocky’s logic in fighting Drago. “Maybe I can’t beat him. Maybe I can just take everything he has. But he’s gonna have to kill me. And to do that he’s gonna have to stand in front of me. And to do that he’s gonna have to be willing to die himself.” Umm….
Apollo and Rocky were frolicking in the ocean. It’s like Zoolander when they poured gasoline all over themselves. Did people in the ‘80s do that?
Isn’t the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day?
“What about their son? It’s Christmas! That’s messed up. Oh my God. I didn’t know that. That’s screwed up. What a bitch. Bring your son! Is he at home with the robot by himself? ‘Your dad might die so I’m gonna leave you with the robot alone. At Christmas.’”
What’s up with the fake Gorbachev?
There is no way in hell this fight would be on the USA Network. I guess Golden Boy wasn’t around then.
“So did Ivan Drago get killed by his government after this? So all the people cheering for Rocky die? That guy’s gonna die. Merry Christmas, you are going to die.”
“He solved the war He figured it out. Hey, ISIS, we got somebody for you. He should fight ISIS and end that war too. All we need to do is watch old Sylvester Stallone movies and solve all the world’s problems.”
While I was at it, I did some Rocky power rankings:
Rocky IV – The Italian Stallion at his peak. Laser-focused and ready to fight to the death.
Ivan Drago – Drago’s mix of steroid-enhanced strength and endurance would make it tough, if not impossible, for any other fighter in the Rocky universe to overcome
Rocky III (2) – Rocky regained the “Eye of the Tiger” with Apollo’s help, but he was built to knock Lang out quickly. He couldn’t have gone a 15-round fight with someone like Drago.
Rocky II – “Win, Rocky, Win!” Rocky was not yet at his peak, but he was hungry for the title and knew he could beat Creed.
Apollo I – Though not at the top of his game, Apollo was still a formidable opponent for the raw Stallion.
Rocky I – Gritty and determined, the younger Balboa had heart but wasn’t facing an opponent with the power of his later opponents.
Clubber Lang – Devastating power, but lacked endurance. It’s possible the younger Balboa could have beaten him by surviving the first few rounds.
Apollo II – The fading Creed was still a tough fight for Rocky, but was clearly at the end of his illustrious career.
Rocky VI – Despite being out of the game for well over a decade, the Stallion could still throw a punch and still take a punch. It helped he wasn’t fighting the same level of competition.
Mason “The Line” Dixon – Seemed like a nice enough kid and had a perfect record, but he should have lost to old Rocky.
Rocky V – He may have had brain damage, but he beat the crap out of Tommy Gunn until Tommy sucker punched him. Plus he had mad street fighter skills.
Tommy “The Machine” Gunn –Tommy got beat up by a brain damaged Rocky in an alley. It wasn’t no pie-eatin’ contest.
Rocky III (I) – Clearly the weakest of the Rockys. He was more interested in riding stationary bikes, kissing ladies, and wearing satin jackets.
Apollo IV – A shell of his former self, with five years of ring rust.
Union Cane – Clearly inspired by Glass Joe.
Spider Rico – I hear he makes a mean Chicken Parmesan.