Following on from my wife’s Christmas-related film ramble featuring one of the classic cinema action heroes of the eighties and nineties, I felt the urge to dig deep into my own past. Childhood actually. To a movie that was to 8 year-old a classic, an addictive sporting journey, of heroes and villains, and a kind of wish fulfillment inspiration as a kid.
I remember jabbing the cushioned wall panels of the cinema as though I was a boxer myself. I remember my father buying me the soundtrack on LP, songs and music that play in your head for years afterwards. I remember a great euphoria as Rocky overpowers Ivan Drago – he’s human after all. That training montage, high tech and chemical enhanced training versus chopping and lifting logs in thick snow. I remember Apollo falling, the bloody towel thrown too late.
What makes this ramble a festive entry of course is the date chosen for the big fight (held in the USSR no less) – Christmas Day. Leaving his wife and kid behind in America, Rocky takes on an almighty sacrifice, and a loving revenge of his dear friend. Rocky’s victory is a salute to the departed Apollo, but also his speech to the world watching gives hope to conflict, including between the Americans and the Soviets at that time. He loves his wife of course, who turns up to surprise him, but the most poignant message is the Merry Christmas to his teary son watching on TV, with that familiar, nerve-tingling score playing.
Today, as an adult, Rocky IV certainly doesn’t hold up as well, especially given how the film series diverted from the grounded excellence of the first underdog story in 1976. The franchise headed into major joke territory with the dismal Rocky V, but fair to say from where I am standing, the predecessors have some cult status in cinema’s history of sports movies. As Rocky himself declares at the end of the fourth movie, if he can change, and you can change, everybody can change! Merry Christmas. But not you Drago – you killed Creed.