Rocky IV (1985) dir. Sylvestor Stallone
Starring: Sylvestor Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, Talia Shire, Burt Young
By Alan Bacchus
'Rocky IV' has so much going wrong with it, it’s an easy film to pick apart, chew up and spit it out as film criticism, which make it so difficult to do that when the film is so much damned fun. Why is that?
First of all, the film is a huge cheat on the part of Stallone. There’s barely a film here, almost no story whatsoever. As usual we see in the opening moments a flashback to the end of the previous Rocky film – Stallone coached by his former nemesis Apollo Creed, fighting and defeating the snarling Clubber Lang (Mr. T).
Cut to Rocky Balboa, once a street level hood who walked around in baggy, ill fitting clothes on the streets of Philadelphia is a now a multimillionaire living in a swanky mansion with a robotic waiter (nice try Sly, the household robots never did catch on). Rocky is now retired, same with Creed, who like Rocky, has nothing to do but relax alone in his backyard swimming pool. But when Apollo hears of a champion Soviet boxer, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) splashing himself all over American television he decides to take on the bulky blonde for a comeback fight in the name of Cold War patriotism.
Despite Rocky’s protests that Apollo's too old, the show must goes on, and after a ridiculous and embarrassing musical sideshow introduction by James Brown Creed gets his butt whipped, and is actually killed in the ring. Rocky won’t stand for it, and desires for revenge against the evil Commies, thus challenging Drago to a match in Russia on Christmas Day. Despite Adrian’s fears he’s got to do it, because he’s a man and a fighter, and without the fight, he’s not a man.
Cue a series of musical montage scenes which contrast the scientific training methods of Drago with the old fashioned organic method of training - push-ups, sit ups, log lifting, snow shovelling and wooden cart pulling. The fight starts and then Rocky wins and earns the respect of the Soviet people.
The film feels like a cheat because Stallone actually gets away without telling a story. He fast forwards through the most difficult part of writing and essentially crafts two fight scenes sandwiched in between half a dozen montage scenes. One after another, we’re shown the same match-cut edited training sequences. Each piece of music is bigger, and grander and more inspiring than the next. There’s ‘Burning Heart’ by Survivor, then ‘Hearts on Fire’ by John Cafferty, then ‘Man Against The World"’ by Survivor (again) and the appropriately titled ‘Training Montage’ by the film’s composer Vince Di Cola.
But it all works beautifully. The montage scenes are crafted very well, and shot and composed perfectly by Stallone. Even though it’s a glorified music video these scenes create great anticipatory energy. Stallone has earned his right to use the sequences. He’s already at the fourth film in the series, each one as popular and successful as the one before it. So Stallone’s just giving the audience what it wants. Sure it’s a sell out to the spirit of the original film, and Stallone indeed would attempt to reboot the series, twice!
'Rocky IV' is disposable franchise filmmaking at its best, an invigorating guilty pleasure, impossible not to love at least on some kind of juvenile level.
The entire Rocky ‘Undisputed’ Collection is available on Blu-Ray from MGM Home Entertainment