By the time writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky IV” was released on November 27, 1985, the franchise (and its creator) had gone from gritty, rough-hewn underdog to much-loved, highly polished, a little too smooth. and completely in the mainstream.
The edge was gone. The story had become obsolete. The mounts felt like parodies of mounts.
Still, Rocky’s fan base continued to grow. “Rocky IV” opened for a non-summer record box of nearly $ 32 million ($ 80 million in today’s dollars) and held the record for the most successful sports film ever until “The Blind Side” in 2009, and to this day remains the most successful record in “Rocky” franchise.
Had I reviewed “Rocky IV” after its release, I would have given it three stars and quoted highlights such as the fabulous over-the-top James Brown “Living in America” number, Apollo Creed’s truly shocking fate – and the addition of Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago, who are only in second place after Carl Weathers’ Apollo as the most memorable of all Rocky’s opponents over the decades.
Disadvantages? The scary, saccharine subplot about Burt Young’s Paulie, who receives a robot named Sico as a birthday present and becomes best friends with the item. Oh. That robot is for the “Rocky” franchise what Jar Jar Binks is for “Star Wars”. Dramatically more worrying was the harsh way in which Apollo’s death was handled in the so-called exhibition match against Drago in Vegas. From the opening bell, Drago strikes Apollo to a bloody pulp, resulting in a disgraceful exit for one of the great figures in franchise history.
During the pandemic, the now 75-year-old Stallone found himself looking for a solo project, so he went back into the editing room to deliver a fresh and completely different clip, with about 40 minutes of the original film removed and 42 minutes of material added. “Rocky IV: Rocky v. Drago” has erased all traces of the robot from the story and removed some light-teasing scenes, while expanding Apollo’s funeral scene and also concretizing the Apollo-Drago confrontation to balance the action and show Apollo standing bravely up. to Drago, at least for a while, giving him a more noble death.
“Rocky v. Drago” opens with a longer version of the summary of key events from “Rocky III”, including Apollo, who offers to become Rocky’s manager and get him the “Tiger Eye” and Rocky’s triumphant rematch against Mr. T’s Clubber Lang. Early in “Rocky IV” we are introduced to the Russian amateur boxer Ivan “Siberian Express” Drago (Lundgren), who is going to America to seek a show fight against Rocky Balboa. Drago’s team, including his gold medal winner swimmer wife Ludmilla Vobet Drago (Brigitte Nielsen), invites the press to a training session where dozens of white-clad laboratory technicians who monitor all kinds of groundbreaking technology monitor Drago’s training session. Is this guy going to the moon?
After Apollo convinces a reluctant Rocky to let Apollo fight the Russian amateur boxer Ivan Drago, with Rocky in his corner – “I beg you as a friend, stand in my corner, just this last time” – we are soon off to Vegas, with the hard-working man in Show Business, performing with the spectacular “Living in America,” while Apollo, dressed as Uncle Sam, participates in a typical green, shiny, screaming American show of excesses, all the while Drago watches with steel-eyed contempt.
Oh oh. It seems that one of these boxers takes this much more seriously than the other.
With the late great Stu Nahan (the real sports commentator who provided the commentary on each of the first six “Rocky” movies) guiding us through the action, the one-sided “exhibition” is handled more like a real battle in the retreat, where Apollo lands some legitimate shots in the first round and looks fit and awake before Drago starts knocking Apollo with punishing body shots and direct blows to the head sending Creed sprawling to the canvas. In the second round, Drago unleashes a frenzy of rage on Apollo and knocks him unconscious, while Nahan exclaims, “What started as a joke has turned out to be a disaster!” and Drago says coolly, “If he dies, he dies.”
Oh, that Drago is the worst!
In the ensuing funeral sequence, Stallone has added a touching speech by Tony Burton’s Tony “Duke” Evers, who was Apollo’s longtime cornerback and joined Rocky’s team. (The relationship between Talia Shire’s Adrian and Rocky also seems to have more precedence in recut; my God, that woman suffered a lot for her love of the big lug.)
The second half of the film is still heavy on training montages and excerpts of key moments from previous “Rocky” movies, as we see Drago use all the latest technology to prepare, while Rocky cuts tree trunks, pulls rocks and pulls Paulie on a sled in the snow like a crazy Alaskan Malamute. (On the soundtrack, Survivors’ “Burning Heart”, with the lyrics: “Does it look like our freedom is up, against the ropes, does the audience understand, is it east to west, or man to man?” Good question!)
As for the climatic clash between Rocky and Drago in Moscow, where Rocky carries Apollo’s famous red-white-and-blue suitcases … the fight seems more dramatically effective, more in line with the first Rocky-Apollo fight from the original. (In just over 14 minutes, the fight has about two minutes more screen time in this round.) Of course, both fighters endure more punishment than just mortals could ever endure in the ring, and yes, it’s insane over the top when Rocky starts to win over the Russians , as he triumphs over Drago – followed by Rocky’s talk about how two guys who kill each other in the ring are better than 20 million who kill each other, and “If I can change and you can change, everyone can change . “
We’re still working on the last one, Rocko.
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