‘Rocky IV’ wins as underdog of Christmas

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Graham Ratermann

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Black eyes, patriotism and training montages in the Russian wilderness aren’t the makings of the average Christmas movie but Rocky Balboa isn’t your traditional boxer.
After previously knocking out Clubber Lang in Rocky III to reclaim the heavyweight championship of the world, Rocky IV starts with the arrival to the US of Soviet Ivan Drago. At the height of the Cold War, Drago’s massive size and athleticism is hailed by his Russian entourage as a symbol of Soviet superiority.
Rocky’s longtime friend and former rival Apollo Creed agrees to fight Drago in an exhibition, motivated to prove that the United States still produces the greatest fighters in the world.
In an over the top patriotic performance, Apollo enters the ring taunting the Soviet and wearing an Uncle Sam costume, accompanied by showgirls and James Brown performing “Living in America.”
This is the part of the movie where I cringe and the only part I truly dislike. Apollo’s arrogance takes him from hero to boastful jerk. When he is finally killed, it makes his death easier to swallow as he provokes Drago. I wish Apollo had entered the ring in a humble manner without the fanfare, his death and Drago’s indifference would clearly paint Apollo as a martyr and Drago as the villain.
The fight starts in a civil manner, with Apollo dancing and taunting the massive Soviet but things soon turn sour.
In a fight that would undoubtedly be stopped by the referee had it not been in a movie, Apollo is beaten against the ropes and in one final blow he tenses rigid like a board before twisting and falling to the canvas.
Rocky rushes into the ring and cradles Apollo in his arms as the defeated American takes his last breaths. I was obviously upset at this part as Apollo had become a beloved part of the Rocky franchise but his hubris in entering the ring made the movie feel like he was asking for it. Away from Apollo’s body, Drago addresses the media, “If he dies, he dies.” The stone cold expression of Drago portrays him as a simple Soviet machine void of human emotions which flips the script as now there is a growing hatred inside of me for the indifferent Russian.
With guilt looming large over his head, Rocky agrees to an unsanctioned fight against Drago on Christmas Day in Moscow. This is the film’s only real connection to Christmas but nonetheless is a great holiday movie to watch with friends and family as it’s appropriate for those of all ages and can open a conversation between two generations of what the Cold War was all about.
Arriving in Russia against the backdrop of a winter snowstorm and Survivor’s Burning Heart Rocky begins a primitive training plan that includes running through knee high snow, chopping down a tree, pulling a weighted sleigh and sprinting up a mountain. While Drago is closely monitored by a team of coaches and doctors in a state of the arch training facility. As a red blooded American this training montage is one of the best scenes of the movie. The imagery of the Russian wilderness and Survivor’s Hearts on Fire culminate to an epic scene.
On Christmas Day, Drago enters the ring to an array of Soviet imagery as Rocky is booed thoroughly by everyone in attendance. The booing sets the odds as Rocky is cast as the obvious underdog and Drago as the hometown favorite.  In classic Sylvester Stallone style the movie is short on dialogue and heavy on action with only witty quips and caveman grunts from Rocky and even less from Drago.
In traditional Rocky style, he endures 15 brutal rounds with Drago, weathering massive blows, but slowly wins over the once hostile crowd with his gutsy performance.
Following the fight, Rocky speaks about the mutual hatred between the United States and the Soviet Union. He says that they should admire one another and two men fighting one another is better than 20 million. This part of the movie is a weird ending as the bloody and battered Rocky can barely speak and let alone put together a coherent speech about Cold War hostility.
Rocky is an exceptional movie as it once again proves that against overwhelming odds an underdog with American grits and determination can win and ultimately Rocky delivers the best Christmas gift, a victory over the Soviets.
This the the fifth installment of a 12  part series. Various staff writers have picked their favorite Christmas movies and reviewed them. Check out the other movies of Christmas here!  
[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwJJkeOTT6Y”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93ASUImTedo[/youtube] By Graham Ratermann