The day is approaching to give it your best
You’ve got to reach your prime!
That’s when you need to put yourself to the test
And show us the passage of time.
We’re gonna need a montage! (Montage!)
A sports training montage! (Montage!)
When it comes to awful ’80s movies, my guilty pleasure is, without a shadow of a doubt, Rocky IV. It’s such a trainwreck on so many levels, yet I still feel compelled to watch it again and again, drawn to its terribleness like a moth to a flame.
My previous post comparing MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko to Ivan Drago has put me in somewhat of a Rocky mindset, so I’ve decided to finally tackle something about that movie that’s been bugging me for quite some time — just what is the ratio between actual narrative progression and montages / musical numbers in Rocky IV? I’ve always been aware of the unusually high number of montages in this flick, but the extent to which Stallone and the crew mailed it on this one has never been truly known — until now.
Montage #1: Exploding Gloves / The Rocky III Recap
Duration: 0:00 to 2:00 (2 minutes)
Song: Eye of the Tiger by Survivor
I know, I know. It’s not exactly a true Rocky montage in the tradition of showing the passage of time and whatnot — it’s just the final fight scene from Rocky III with Eye of the Tiger playing over top of the action, with the occasional cut to Soviet and American boxing gloves that rotate, slam into each other, and explode for some bizarre reason. Still, it’s a pretty bad omen — the damn movie hasn’t even started yet and Stallone is already scouring the archives in order to kill time.
Montage #2: Apollo Creed and James Brown Get Funky
Duration: 23:15 to 26:05 (2 minutes and 50 seconds)
Song: Living in America by James Brown
Okay, so once again this isn’t a Rocky montage in the truest sense of the word. Still, it’s a three minute musical number that serves no other purpose but to have James Brown appear in the movie, so that’s good enough for me. Maybe if Apollo Creed hadn’t wasted so much energy dancing with The Godfather of Soul, he might still be alive today. On a related note, “The Count of Monte Fisto” is such an awesome nickname for a fighter.
Montage #3: Rocky’s Car / The Rocky, Rocky II, and Rocky III Recap
Duration: 41:20 — 45:45 (4 minutes and 25 seconds)
Song: No Easy Way Out by Robert Tepper
Apollo’s dead, Adrian’s pissed, and Rocky’s about to leave for Russia to fight Drago. Great, now that we have all that pesky plot out of the way, it’s time to strap in and take the express lane to Montage City, because we have just passed the point of no friggin’ return. In what is perhaps the greatest montage in the history of montages, Rocky starts his car, drives around at night, and reflects back on better times with Apollo and Adrian (by showing several clips from all three Rocky movie up to this point, of course). The film studies bullshit artist inside me could interpret this as Rocky seeing his life flash before eyes, knowing that he faces certain death at the hands of Ivan Drago. The realist inside me, however, would simply call this extremely lazy filmmaking on Stallone’s part.
Montage #4: Rocky Arrives in Russia
Duration: 48:25 — 51:05 (2 minutes and 40 seconds)
Song: Burning Heart by Survivor
Less than three minutes after the previous montage, we’re back at it once again. I mean, who needs dialogue when you’ve got the dulcet sounds of Survivor, am I right? This time, Rocky’s plane touches down in Russia, a bunch of snow-covered Commies look in his general direction, and he’s escorted to his cabin in the middle of nowhere. I always get a kick out of the guy pictured below who gives Rocky a subtle nod, as if to say “‘Sup, dawg?”, as he steps off the plane. Hey, in a rather uneventful montage, you really gotta step back and appreciate the little things.
Montage #5: Training Montage, Part I
Duration: 55:00 — 58:40 (3 minutes and 40 seconds)
Song: Training Montage by Vince DiCola
Less than four minutes later (which was mostly spent by Rocky’s trainer, Duke (aka, the black Mickey), telling Rocky that “he knows what he needs to do”), it’s time to get down to brass tacks and give the audience what they’ve been waiting so patiently for — the training montage! Rocky, despite being heavyweight champion with unparallelled access to the latest training equipment and world-class sparring partners, decides to borrow from Fedor Emelianenko’s training program of cutting down trees, lifting rocks, and carrying logs over his shoulder prior to a big fight. Meanwhile, Drago (the cold, heartless Commie bastard that he is), uses science. Boo! Hiss! Down with modern athletics!
Montage #6: Training Montage, Part II
Duration: 59:55 — 1:04:10 (4 minutes and 15 seconds)
Song: Hearts on Fire by John Cafferty
Ivan Drago is a pretty bad dude … did you really think that a single training montage would be enough time for Rocky to get in shape to face the man nicknamed “Death From Above”? Hell no! Stallone refuses to take his foot off the gas pedal, bombarding us with a second epic training montage a mere 75 seconds after the first one wrapped up. Sure, it shows pretty much the exact same stuff as the previous montage, except this time Rocky has grown a badass beard, outruns a car, and climbs a fucking mountain.
For those keeping score at home, Stallone had the balls to include nearly nine straight minutes of training montage in Rocky IV, with the only break in the action being a minute of Adrian and Rocky talking outside of their cabin. It’s almost as if he knew that the movie would bring in a truckload of money no matter what, so why should he even bother with dumb things like character and story development? Been there, got the Oscar for it, so it’s time to make nothing but montages from here on out! Still, when the montages he gives us are of such awesome quality, who am I to complain?
Montage #7: The Final Battle
Duration: 1:15:50 — 1:20:25 (4 minutes and 35 seconds)
Song: War by Vince DiCola
While an amazing 10 whole minutes have passed since the last montage, don’t worry, nothing of substance has actually happened — those 10 minutes consisted solely of entrances, ring introductions, and the first two rounds of the fight between Rocky and Drago. Of course, even Stallone knows that he can’t show an entire 15-round boxing match, so you know what that means … it’s time for the fight montage! Both men absolutely destroy each other with a plethora of power shots, and I’m pretty sure Rocky actually loses the fight at one point, but I guess the Soviet system doesn’t use the three knockdown TKO rule. Their loss (literally).
As far as fight montages go, this one is probably my favourite in the entire Rocky series. According to IMDB, Stallone and Dolph Lundgren were actually hitting each other in order to make the footage look more real. Naturally, Stallone ended up in the hospital after taking too many body shots from the Siberian Bull. He wasn’t lying when he said he must break you! All in all, the music is great, the action looks decent, there’s a Gorbachev lookalike watching the fight, and even the bearded dude from the airport is in the crowd to check in on his homeboy. Awesome.
Montage #8: Victory / End Credits / The Rocky IV Recap
Duration: 1:26:35 — 1:31:20 (4 minutes and 45 seconds)
Song: Hearts on Fire by John Cafferty
The movie started with a montage recapping the previous film, so it’s only fitting that Rocky IV concludes with a montage recapping the previous film — that film being Rocky IV, of course. After Rocky Balboa singlehandedly ends the Cold War with his stirring speech (“If I can change, and you can change … everybody can change!”), the song Hearts on Fire kicks in once more. We see a few scenes of Rocky, draped in the American flag, celebrating his victory, and then the credits begin to scroll — overtop of rapid-fire, black and white still photos from every scene in the movie. Wait, what?
Come on, hardly anything actually happened during the past 90 minutes — do we really need to see it all over again in condensed format? Perhaps Stallone thought that the audience would be so emotionally drained after Rocky’s upset victory (and the fact that he just brought down the Berlin Wall all by himself) that they would be unable to remember anything that happened prior to the climactic showdown. And if this is the case, Stallone would be wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.
That being said, it’s better than plain ol’ credits over the black void of nothingness.
TOTAL MONTAGE TIME: 29 minutes and 10 seconds
TOTAL MOVIE RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes and 20 seconds
PERCENTAGE OF ROCKY IV THAT IS MONTAGE: 31.9%
That’s right. Nearly one-third of the entire movie is montage / musical numbers. The numbers are even worse if you look at just the last 50 minutes of the movie (aka, the point in the movie where Stallone said “screw it, this movie stuff is too hard”). Starting from the No Easy Way Out sequence, there is a total of 24 minutes and 20 seconds of montage — which means that during the second half of the movie, Rocky IV is approximately 50% montage. Absolutely incredible.
Going back to the movie as a whole, we now know that one-third of the total running time is devoted to montage. Another third is taken up solely by the two boxing matches, which means that only one-third of Rocky IV actually involves the characters doing things other than training or fighting. And to top it all off, most of those scenes feature that friggin’ robot, which means they might as well not even exist since the robot was so mind-shatteringly retarded. Seriously, what the hell was the point of that thing? Damn you, ’80s!
Stallone, you insane bastard. How you managed to get away with this, we’ll never know. But I’m sure glad you did, because Rocky IV is, despite its flaws, nothing short of awesome.