Comfortable and Furious

Starring debuts #13: Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV (1985)

Look, I’m not gay.

Yes, I love The Wizard of Oz and did once find myself in a gay nightclub via a drunken youthful mistake, but don’t go trying to give me all that lady doth protest too much shit.

I’m not gay.

All right?

Saying that, I must confess to a sneaking admiration for the physical attributes of Mr. Lundgren in this particular sports drama. It’s nothing sexual, no wish to touch his ‘front bottom’ as Don Logan says in Sexy Beast, but just a simple aesthetic appreciation. And by that, I mean the way the guy’s been put together. Blonde, eight feet tall, and looking like he’s capable of dismantling all of America’s institutions and traditions with one gargantuan punch.

This admiration of his strapping physique is no different to the way I feel when I see other well-designed structures, such as Sydney’s Opera House, the Taj Mahal or St. Paul’s Cathedral. They’re handsome entities, aren’t they? But I don’t wanna shag them anymore than I do Dolph. Or even run my hand over his smooth, finely chiseled chest when he’s not looking. That would be daft.

Got it?

Right, on with the review.

Now Mr. T was a good, memorable villain in the second sequel but Lundgren takes things to a whole new level here. He’s superb and surely the main reason Rocky IV became the franchise’s biggest hit with a $300million box office take. Pity Tommy Morrison, the poor schmuck who had to follow in Dolph’s footsteps, in the dismal Rocky V.

Anyhow, early on in Rocky IV we’re told the average heavyweight boxer punches with the force of 700 pounds of pressure per square inch. Via some computer wizardry Captain Ivan Drago is shown achieving 1850 psi, an enormous thump that we later see has increased to a phenomenal 2150.

“The results are quite obvious,” his manager tells a bunch of awestruck onlookers. “Whatever he hits, he destroys.”

Out of curiosity I Googled the bite pressure of the most fearsome predator of Earth (and no, I don’t mean Harvey Weinstein) and found that a 21 ft Great White can sink its choppers into you at 4000 psi.

Now this isn’t exactly an irrefutable scientific conclusion, but I believe this means Drago punches with the equivalent force of a bite from a 10ft long hungry shark. Is it me or does this conjure up the wonderful picture of Drago dancing around the ring armed with a pair of razor-toothed sharks on the end of his wrists?

Bloody hell, no wonder Apollo ended up dead. Perhaps the only surprise was that Drago didn’t slowly circle him as he lay face down twitching on the canvas, soaking up the boos while taking the occasional chomp.

Then again, everything about Drago is impressive. Introduced before the glare of America’s media, he looks dashing in his army uniform with his impossibly broad shoulders. He’s a 261-pound ‘mountain of muscle’ and ‘the most perfectly trained athlete ever.’ He’s the undefeated world amateur boxing champion. There’s no need for any showboating or trash talk. Indeed, he barely utters a word but what he does say is priceless (“You will lose”, “I cannot be defeated”, “I defeat all men”, “I must break you” and that classic, chilling statement of indifference: “If he dies, he dies.”) Even his nickname The Siberian Express is the coolest in the history of the sport.

Then there’s his unsmiling demeanor. Boy, does this guy know how to intimidate. Look how many shots we get of his sweat-beaded face in profile before his head slowly swivels to unleash that knee-quivering stare. And on top of everything else, he appears emotionless, as if he’s some sort of pugilistic Terminator. Certainly there are moments when he gives a machine-like impression of Skynet disdain for the puny mortals clamoring around him. This explains his faint bemusement with James Brown belting out Living in America alongside showgirls in the minutes before the fatal exhibition match. Not that such a load of Western razzle-dazzle could possibly make any difference to Drago’s concentration. No one has their eye on the ball like him. He can neither be distracted nor goaded, especially by some dancing, hasbeen ninny in an Uncle Sam getup who pays the ultimate price for underestimation.

Frankly, I would’ve ended the flick right there with Rocky wishing he’d thrown in the towel to save his best mate from the threat of decapitation. Drago’s the best. Hell, even Drago’s towering missus looks like she can kick Rocky’s ass.

But I guess movies don’t work that way. After all, Rocky’s always been the underdog, hasn’t he? Even so, it’s still hard to believe he’s gonna get in the ring with this shark-man.

In Russia.

On Christmas Day.

After giving up his belt.

For free.

No wonder a distraught Adrian (Shire) bleats: “You’ve seen him. You’ve seen how strong he is. You can’t win!” Or as that understandably smug Slav manager pronounces at the subsequent press conference: “It’s physically impossible for this little man to win. Drago is a look at the future.”

Now we all know Rocky’s got a huge heart, an indomitable spirit and the simmering need to avenge Apollo, but duking it out toe to toe with this cyborg?

It’s simply inconceivable.

Whatever next? The Soviet Union falling apart virtually overnight?

I have to say Rocky IV, written and directed by Sly, is brilliant at building Drago up. By the time our slightly shorter hero has made the decision to take on the steroid-fuelled ‘death from above’ and single-handedly heal East-West relations, the ultra-confident Drago’s already become a near-mythical figure. In a way his eventual defeat after fifteen bruising, bloodied rounds is the only mistake the movie makes, especially as he then has to gallingly listen to his victor’s simplistic guff about how ‘everybody can change.’

Well, Drago doesn’t need to change. He’s fucking perfect.

Or am I being blinded by love?



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