Love to hate: Ivan Drago

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Rocky IV, please keep reading. The spoiler statute is void after 30 years. Watch the movie and make better life decisions from here on out, K?

Now… say what you will, but Ivan Drago is unquestionably in the conversation for top five movie villains of all time. He made us hate, grieve and hate again, then left a sliver of hope there at the end for the sake of emotional torment.

Need I go further than the brutal murder of great black American hero Carl Wea… er uh.. Apollo Creed? Creed, who personified the American spirit with his zeal and exuberance for the sport he loved. Ok, maybe his ring entrance was a little over the top. You got me. Perhaps he didn’t need to have James Brown – the godfather of soul himself – sing “Living in America” with full backup dancer entourage and jheri-curled, trumpet twirling background singers, sugar-footing all over the damned stage as Apollo himself danced to the ring wearing his signature US flag shorts, and US flag top hat, and US flag electronic light up, knee length vest with his chest all out – all after descending from the heavens on a platform with a humongous animatronic smoke-breathing `ram’s head, for some fucking reason. Granted, that could be taken as a little boastful. But, whatever, the man is a showman – can’t fault him for that. And it definitely didn’t warrant the earth-shifting ass whoopin Drago dealt him; that was just uncalled for. The man was coming out of retirement for an exhibition fight – it was a goddamn exhibition! Apollo was 65 years old or something like that. And Drago pummeled that man to death in front of his wife – screaming in horror, then just walked away all smooth like. He was an American treasure, you bastard!

Drago was evil personified – an inhuman punching machine, created by anabolic steroids, futuristic equipment and sick montages. His inhumanity was made evident during his post-fight interview after his slaying of (American hero) Apollo Creed, where he callously offered “If he dies: he dies.” Daaaamn that’s cold! He barely spoke but you felt his imposing presence, seething evil every time he was on camera. He felt more like a monster in a horror film than a traditional antagonist. His super-human punching power (more than twice that of the average heavyweight), even in victory, wrecked Rocky’s life thereafter, causing him permanent brain damage. After that fight, every punch to the head Rocky absorbed had the potential to end his life.

Furthermore, Drago’s maleficence couldn’t be contained by the movie screen. It transformed actor, Dolph Lundgren (who played Drago), beloved in Sweden for his warm, gentle nature and childlike zest, overcoming his true persona and using him as a vessel to inflict more pain. During filming, Lundgren unknowingly channeled Drago’s abilities and delivered a blow that almost caused Stallone’s heart to explode in his chest; Stallone was rushed to the ICU. He also tossed (American hero) Apol… Carl Weathers around the ring like a bitch, almost causing him to quit the movie. Eventually the demon was exercised but Drago easily could’ve easily cost us two great talents and an iconic film.

So, yes, hate Ivan Drago; the writers and directors want you to. Drago is 100% pure evil.. but he’s kinda awesome too.

How about this: “You will lose,” “I must break you,” and “If he dies: he dies” are three of about eight total lines Drago has in the movie, and some of his lines are in Russian (let’s say two). That means that half of the time Drago speaks in Rocky IV he’s saying some ill shit – iconic lines in American move lore. That’s just facts.

He also played a role in ending the Cold War. It’s no secret that the underlying story of Rocky IV was tension between the US and USSR, Rocky personifying US values and Drago doing the same for Soviet. The conflict between the two was physical in presentation but political in emotional undertones. Being an American film, of course Rocky would win but that wasn’t the point. As Rocky, the underdog, gains the favor of the Soviet audience and eventual triumph, it sets the stage for him to leave us with a thoughtful message, blathered in a punch-drunk stupor, as Drago’s savagery had already begun taking effect on his brain: “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change.”

In 1985, the same year the movie was released, Gorbachev was elected and systematically dismantled the USSR, ending a decades long conflict. Coincidence? You decide.

Even Drago himself can’t help but admire Rocky’s seeming inability to quit, despite the beating he was taking. The glimmer of an actual feeling he showed almost endeared us to him, causing emotional turmoil for the viewer who’d despised the character throughout the film, having to suppress his/her own admiration for Drago. The moment almost made you forgive him for the brutal mauling of (American hero) Apollo Creed… Almost.

Rocky IV remained the highest grossing sports movie for 24 years (being bested by The Blind Side in 2009), in large part due to the villain we love to hate: the great Ivan Drago. #respek

One thought on “Love to hate: Ivan Drago

  1. Pingback: The struggle is real | Truth in Jest

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