- Written and Directed by Sylvester Stallone
- November 21, 1985 (Premiere) / November 27, 1985 (US)
Rocky must face off against Ivan Drago after Drago kills Apollo Creed during an exhibition match.
The first thing you notice in Rocky IV is it is very clearly a parallel of the Cold War between the United States and the USSR. If you can’t figure that out I can’t help you. And that’s a problem. The concept of Rocky works best when it’s the story of an underdog rising to the challenge. As a Cold War allegory, it’s not bad but not quite of the same quality as Rocky, Rocky II, or even Rocky III. Rocky is a story about the individual standing up to the challenge and not the politics of the era. Or it is not supposed to be.
This film, much like the Rocky series, is at its best when it’s exploring relationships. Rocky IV’s main relationship is the friendship between Rocky and Apollo Creed. That’s weird considering that title was previously held by Rocky and his wife. The story here picks up with the closing scene of Rocky III and moves on from there. We see a strong bond develops between Rocky and Apollo. They are very close friends which is why Apollo Creed’s death packs such a punch. They did that perfectly.
Paulie (Burt Young) gets a good chunk of play in this movie but is much more of the comic relief than he is a character. He doesn’t even seem nearly as jealous and envious of Rocky as he did previously. And why is he even along for the trip to the USSR? That was my big question. He was not part of Rocky’s training team or anything.
Adrian (Talia Shire) who was largely the motivating force behind Rocky gets demoted to supportive girlfriend in the story. She shows up to help him analyze the situation or provide generic emotional support but is not a driving force for Rocky anymore. She could have spent the movie completely offscreen with her loss not impacting the story.
And that uselessness extends to Ludmilla Vobet Drago (Brigitte Nielsen). You know the actress but I doubt you could remember her name. I doubt it was ever used in the story. Despite her presence, Mrs. Drago really does nothing. She is Ivan Drago’s wife and a former swimming champion but beyond that why is she even in the movie? I guess it pays to be involved with the director. Drago’s handler (Michael Pataki) could’ve taken most of her lines.
Women in Rocky IV really get the shaft. They are very clearly token characters otherwise this would be a serious sausagefest. The two above females are the only significant women in this movie with any others being firmly in the background. In a fictional world that previously contained largely strong and well developed female characters (at least for the era), what we got this time around was just plain weak.
Famously the villain of the movie is Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). They do a good job of crafting him as a stereotypical Russian or at least as we perceived them at the time without making him laughably bad. He is cold and emotionless and doesn’t care who he hurts or crushes along the way. Just cold and uncaring and the polar opposite to Rocky.
Rather than refighting the Vietnam War, this is an ‘80s movie that fights and wins the Cold War with the United States coming out victorious. A fight against good and evil intended to be epic. Rocky goes into the fight seeking the only justice possible in the death of his friend. Drago is seeking more glory no matter the cost.
Rocky IV is much more of a patriotic nature than it is an underdog story. Even though Rocky trains in the toughest way he possibly can while Drago takes the showier, route it’s not about Rocky rising to the challenge. Then again I’m not sure how many times you can have the world champion be an underdog in a fight. Maybe avoid a movie with a boxing match in the finale.
The scene before Apollo’s (Carl Weathers) deadly fight quite possibly perfectly encapsulates the showboating nature of the character. He’s an asshole but a charming asshole. He is as much entertainer as he is boxer. That and that performance by James Brown are one of the more entertaining fluff elements of the Rocky series.
The movie is entertaining but not of as high caliber as the source. It is much more a child of the ‘80s than it is a child of Rocky. It is not unlike any number of enjoyable yet kinda trashy films from the time. The plot is predictable and its ultimate message, while not shoved in your face, is hard to miss.
Rocky IV does not have as much substance as the first two Rocky films and is a deviation from the formula that was used in the third. Still it’s not a bad movie. It has more good points than bad and as one would expect from these movies has a rather rousing finish. If you have enjoyed the first three films, then Rocky IV is worth checking out. It’s not great but it is good.
2 thoughts on “Rocky IV”