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Rocky Four: A Tale of Two Countries

Recently, I watched yet another movie as quarantine's insanity continues creeping through my household, controlling my mind, corrupting my sensation of time, making every day seem so intrinsically identical in every facet and manner. Only receiving snippets of the outside world through scattered digital news, with barely anyone in the neighborhood exiting their homes save for physical exercise occasionally. Indeed, this COVID-19 is taking a toll... But it provides me free time to binge movies and shows, so I don't care! (Expect a Tiger King review soon.) Rocky Four is probably the movie which the character Rocky Balboa is most known for, being the culmination of the character's evolution over his saga, an encapsulation of the 80s culture as America faced off against the Communist juggernaut of the Soviet Union, carrying a symbolic thematic message which goes beyond mere boxing, and into the halls of cinematic legend. There are numerous moments that define this movie as something truly immortal, from Rocky's famous training montage music, scores performed excellently, or perhaps the death of Rocky's stark opponent turned friend played by Carl Weathers, that being Apollo Creed. Ultimately, Rocky Four contains the highest stakes, most entertaining fights, and greatest rollercoaster tale in this series of brutal boxing matches with cheering crowds emphasizing the intense narrative.

To summarize: Rocky Balboa, a retired boxing star originating from Italy, rides off the glory days of his career, enjoying a quaint existence with his wife, child, brother-in-law, and robot wife in a sleepy neighborhood. Still associated with boxing and Apollo, Rocky's life takes a drastic turn upon America's greatest rival at that contemporary age, the Russian-led Socialist Union of Soviet Republics, the USSR, making entrances into international competitive sports to further its waning image. Around this time historically, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last premier of the Soviet Union, initiated a series of political and economic reforms that weakened the usually iron grip of power the Soviet Government enjoyed over its people, allowing for new political parties to form, new trade deals to be signed, and more hints of capitalism showing up in a usually planned, state-owned economy. This began encouraging outright dissent against the Soviet Empire built over several decades, weakening their image further internationally as their constituent satellite states in Eastern Europe began conspiring to revolt against their oppressive, dictatorial occupiers. Thus, competition against the USA was skyrocketed in order to create tension and unite the Soviet people in a wave of patriotism against the American, capitalistic enemy. In the Rocky Universe, the one commanding this Soviet barreling into sports is Ivan Drago, a brutal machine of a man whose physicality, intimidating glare, and stellar performances in the boxing ring have granted Soviet political forces a public image of power, prestige, and fearsome capabilities. Apollo Creed, wanting to resurrect his old infamy across the nation and reinvigorate interest in him throughout the world, decides to engage in one last boxing match against Ivan Drago. Unfortunately, the cocky old star underestimates the Russian beast before him, and fatally suffers the consequences. This shocks the world, but Apollo's old friend Rocky is determined to avenge his friend and restore America's sports image. Traveling to Siberia, Russia, Rocky trains intensely through his drill instructors, preparing himself for the 15-round match against Drago. After a brutal affair in which he is pummeled and pummels, he manages to defeat the monstrous enemy, ending the movie with an inspiring speech of unity between the American and Russian people in forging a better, brighter path into the future together.

Rocky is just as much about the Cold War as it was about a boxing match. The entire context of Drago's personal war against Creed, and later on Rocky himself, is that of two international superpowers battling for dominance, prestige, and authority. America and the Soviet Union, two ideological opposites in every manner, both want to control the world's state of affairs through any means necessary. Both are intensely patriotic, but yet have different feels to them. In Apollo's match against Ivan in America, there are flashy lights, dancing cheerleaders, and jazzy singers praising the freedom, democracy, and liberty of America. On the other end of the coin, the battle in Russia begins with applause of Russia's Communist Leaders, including Marx and Lenin, along with a mural of Ivan Drago that is saluted by the crowd. There is a feeling of recklessness, frivolity, almost sensationalism in America, which defines us as a country in media and culture. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is humorless, patriotic, overwhelming and worldly, a civilized empire built on the backs of slaves and soldiers that will seemingly last forever. Rocky, however, doesn't battle for all these feelings of nationalism or patriotism. Merely to avenge his friend, whose life was taken by the brutality of Drago.

Drago himself is a curious character. He is the movie's main antagonist, certainly fulfilling his role as the villain by having a thoughtless, aloof glare as Apollo dies of blunt force trauma inflicted by the Slavic heavyweight. He trains in artificially constructed rooms operated by scientists carefully monitoring his vitals and administering drugs to enhance performance, his public relations managed by his wife Ludmilla and manager. It's clear his sports career isn't built on personal passion however. While Drago certainly takes competition seriously, his motivations are overshadowed by the relentless Soviet forces that want Drago to represent their continuous relevance on the world stage and opposition against the Americans. Ivan Drago, for all his bloodied brutality inflicted upon Apollo and the unfortunate audience of Americans that bore witness to his demise, isn't truly evil. He's both a victim and proponent of circumstances, his fights often commanded in advance. This is most epitomized when a Soviet politician, enraged at Drago's sudden downturn in performance near the end of his battle with Rocky, pressures Ivan further and berates him verbally. This sets Drago over the edge, in which he chokes the arrogant tyrant, stating 'I fight for me!' Drago's ambiguous, nebulous past is ultimately never addressed, merely hinted at in miniscule windows that are mostly ignored later on in the movie anyway.

It's clear the movie star here is Rocky Balboa, a smashing main protagonist who carries the hopes and dreams of an entire country with him. His struggles are our struggles, the movie makes us feel like members of that expectant audience watching Rocky battle against an almost apocalyptic, supervillain-esque of an enemy and keeping getting up after each hammer smash against him. His determination, confidence, and strength, all only capable of being played by Sylvester Stallone, a true master-class actor, are what carries him through this movie. We see his initial struggles with his wife Adrienne, as she eventually returns to support him, his loving relationship with son (and that weird robot girl) and even Paulie, his nihilistic brother-in-law. Rocky carries that message of unity with him as well. At the movie's climax, even the crowds of xenophobic Russians turn their hearts and begin cheering for Rocky, shocking the Soviet Politburo government and the entire world. This unity is what defines Rocky as a character, who doesn't care for national loyalties, but rather just humanity and character. Plus, his training montage soundtracks, from the original Rocky theme to Hearts of Fire to Eye of the Tiger are absolute bangers that can motivate anyone to do just about anything given the right circumstances.

In the end, Rocky Four achieves everything it sets out too. It creates a relatable, yet still powerful protagonist, an almost unstoppable villain that is eventually overcome through endless adversity, a supporting side cast, a symbolic message of two opposite superpowers, all while providing a pleasurable viewing experience. If quarantine madness is getting to you, watch this film. It'll get you inspired for the eventual day this pandemic is destroyed, trust me. Thus, Rocky Four gets a solid 10/10 from me!

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