Late last night, when I was supposed to be writing, I found myself sucked into the Rocky IV final fight scene. It was, my memory told me, gripping stuff: Rocky v. Drago. Capitalism v. Communism. West v. East. Old v. New. Rocky, small but strong, avenging the death of his friend, the legendary Apollo Creed.
On. And on. And on.
So I watched. And, well, it sucked. I mean, the fight is utterly ludicrous, and had to have been choreographed by either a blind ex-fighter or a blind Sly Stallone. There’s no defense to speak of. Rocky is knocked down, hits the mat, bounces back up and continues to brawl. Rocky is about to die—literally, he’s against the ropes being slugged repeatedly in the head—and the ref refuses to step in. Rocky comes back because, whoa, Drago is cut. And nobody cuts Drago. And it’s so shocking and stunning and unfathomable that, suddenly, Rocky is terrific again and Drago’s Leon Spinks (after the first Ali fight). It’s so bad, it’s bad. Not good. Bad.
Worst of all, it brought forth this post-fight speech from the non-existent era when boxers were expected to address a crowd after 12 rounds of nightmarish hell …
I came here tonight... and I didn't know what to expect. I've seen a lot of people hating me... and I didn't know... what to feel about that, so... I guess I didn't like you much either. During this fight... I seen a lot of changing: the way you felt about me... and the way I felt about you. In here... there were two guys... killing each other. But I guess that's better than million. What I'm trying to say is... if I can change... and you can change... everybody can change! I just want to say one thing to my kid... who should be home sleeping. Merry Christmas, kid! I love you!
With no further delay, my ranking of the six Rocky films (best to worst) …
1. Rocky III: I know Rocky won an Academy Award, but it’s sort of a sloppy film with a very quick and flat final fight scene. Rocky III, on the other hand, is owned and dominated by Mr. T, whose Clubber Lang goes down as one of the all-time great movie heroes. The best sequence? Easy:
Announcer: “What’s your prediction for the fight?”
Announcer: “Yes. Prediction.”
2. Rocky: Look, it did win the Academy Award. And the Rocky-courting-Adrian scenes are pretty damn good. Also, if you’re gonna rip off Muhammad Ali, nobody beats Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed. There’s also a unique simplicity to the film; the development of Rocky as more than a lug, but a lug with a huge heart and a soft touch. The best line—and one of the best lines ever, anywhere: The fight ends, and Adrian rushes into the ring. Her red hat falls off her head as she weaves through the crowd. Rocky is bloodied, battered, bruised. And he looks at Adrian and says, “Where’s your hat?”
3. Rocky IV: I don’t think it’s a very good movie, but it does—to its credit—play into the whole Ronald Reagan-era theme of Evil Empire and Russia against America. Drago doesn’t touch Mr. T, mainly because Dolph Lundgren lacks Mr. T’s charisma and sense of timing. But hearing him say, “I will break you” is pretty sweet.
4. Rocky Balboa: A ludicrous flick. Truly ludicrous. Should have never been made, dumb premise, acts as if Rocky V never happened. But here’s the thing—it was entertaining. And fun. I didn’t hate it. Plus, Antonio Tarver! Um … yeah. It sucked.
5. Rocky II: Maybe the most forgettable sequel in big American movie history. What I remember most, oddly, is the TV is on in one scene, and Brent Musburger is talking about the upcoming Los Angeles Rams game. Otherwise, it’s kinda dogshit. Spoiler alert: Rocky wins.
6. Rocky V: Sylvester Stallone has said this movie should have never been made—and he’s right. Tommy Morrison (RIP) was completely miscast. Mainly because—unlike T, Weathers and even Dolph—he didn’t know how to act. The big misfire here was Stallone not realizing nobody wanted to pay $10 to see a brain-damaged Rocky Balboa slurring words and flunking third grade math.