'Rocky IV' - Rewind Review
Sports and Political Fantasies of the 80s Collide as the Cold War Culminates to a Boxing Match Between an American Underdog and a Soviet Machine, All Set to a Guitar Solo-Heavy Soundtrack
Courtesy IMDb: After iron man Drago, a highly intimidating 6-foot-5, 261-pound Soviet athlete, kills Apollo Creed in an exhibition match, Rocky comes to the heart of Russia for 15 pile-driving boxing rounds of revenge.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, Brigitte Nielsen, Tony Burton, Michael Pataki
In the first episode of the VIA VHS podcast, I'm joined by Steve Iannuccilli from New York City's Dinner and a Podcast to discuss Rocky IV. Very few films capture the American bravado of the 80s quite like Rocky IV. The original Rocky film was a character piece, focusing on the underdog Rocky Balboa, his will to win, and his journey overcoming the odds. Rocky was nominated for several Oscars at the 1977 academy awards and secured a win for Best Picture and Best Director. As the franchise evolved through subsequent sequels, Rocky kept the underdog, desire to win characteristics but changed into more of a popcorn flick and blockbuster studio tent pole. The interesting thing to me is that Rocky IV doesn't feel like a sell out. Most films that achieve high critical and commercial praise early on find it difficult to maintain the balance between art and money grab going forward. Here's looking at you, Jaws. Sure the critics hated Rocky IV for its cheesiness and political undertones, but for me it doesn't matter. I love this film, and Rocky IV ranks very high on my guilty pleasure list, and I'm not sure I should even feel guilty.
As I mentioned above, with the Cold War reaching its climax in the mid-80s, and the Reagan era in full swing, Rocky IV capitalized on the anti-communism/Soviet Union sentiments of most of America by casting Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago, a Soviet enhanced behemoth, almost seemingly cyborg in nature and a worthy adversary to Rocky in both physical stature and ideology. Many critics bashed Rocky IV as a shallow, derivative Cold war metaphor, one critic going as far as calling it political porn, directed at the dedicated Ronald Reagan political base that ushered the 'Gipper' to a landslide re-election the previous year. If the movie itself isn't proof enough, here's Reagan himself giving a review of Rocky IV (dubbed in French, Reagan speaks English obv.)
So if unbridled machismo and uber-patriotism isn't enough to get your flagpole at full mast, the Rocky IV soundtrack should do the trick. Music has always been an important element to the Rocky franchise. Not only are we treated to Bill Conti's iconic scores "Gonna Fly Now" and "The Final Bell", but we also get good old-fashioned , Mullet inducing, Z-28 Camaro Rock N' Roll. Bands like Survivor, who is forever linked to the franchise, are joined by the likes of Kenny Loggins, John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, and even James Brown, to create one of the best and most popular movie soundtracks ever! In fact, Rocky IV even taps into the popularity of MTV by creating montages that are essentially music videos, a brilliant marketing move getting pieces of the film on rotation at MTV.
A big thanks to this week's guest Steve from Dinner and a Podcast for picking Rocky IV to kick off the new and improved VIA VHS Podcast. It's fitting that one of the films that most captures the culture of 80s America is picked to kick off the show. You can find Dinner and a Podcast on iTunes and all the popular pod-catching sites, also on Twitter @DinnerPodcast. VIA VHS can be found on social media @viavhs and as part of the Podfix Network.
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About the author
I've been a movie addict since the 80s and 90s.
My dealer was the local Blockbuster video and I injected these drugs through a Magnavox VCR and a Toshiba television. No need for an intervention. Host of the VIA VHS Retro Movie Podcast.