By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Brigette Nielson and Dolph Lundgren.
About a month ago, I was watching Rocky IV with a female friend of mine who is a self-proclaimed huge fan of the series. Throughout this sitting, she cleared one thing up for me: how has this series of movies about a simple guy making something of himself caught on so much? She said the reason she loved the movies was because they were movies that told stories and did it in a romantic manner. Romantic because everything that Stallone’s title character does was in the name of Adrian, the love of his life. Well, it was around the time this fourth film was released in 1985 that the stories became very simple. Almost TOO simple. Because, the symbolism that opened the first film (a close-up of Jesus panned down to Rocky clinching another fighter) has been replaced with two gloves on wooden spools, one American and one Russian, clashing and causing an explosion. Too simple? Maybe. But, under Stallone’s own admission, this was him at his creative peak (more on the validity of that statement later). So, after taking the Rocky series in so many human driven directions, he decided to go sci-fi with the fourth installment.
Does it work? I will say this: On a technical level, Rocky IV works in every way. Stallone, who once again steps behind the camera, uses everything from dissolves (the one that is used from Rocky and Adrian sharing a tender moment right into Drago’s arrival was well done) to call backs (him and Apollo watching their second match together was an amusing segment) to even Depalma-style split screens. His symbolism gets a little excessive at times (during the training montage, Drago is always encompassed and caked in red), but Stallone’s visual stylings and his way of telling a story were good, and it had all the makings of a technically well made film.
The returning supporting characters are also on their game. Adrian (Shire), who had turned into an annoying shell of her former self in the last sequel, was right back in top form. I don’t know if it was how Stallone wrote her character this time as opposed to last, but the argument on the stairs and her eventual arrival in Russia have great impact and you can feel Rocky getting stronger, just like the previous films. Paulie still has all the great lines (after a formal greeting from a Russian commissary, Paulie tells Rocky that he ‘sounds like Dracula’s cousin’). But, after Apollo’s death, Duke (Burton) is called upon to take over the training duties. And, after being a background character for three straight films, Duke is more than up to the task. And, in a film full of bulging biceps & testosterone galore, his speech to Rocky before the first training montage is superb.
Ahhh, the training montages. In fact, combining all the montages, they take up about fifteen minutes of this ninety-one minute film. And, while it certainly isn’t the most creative way of telling a story, the montages get the job done. With the series’ frequent composer Bill Conti busy working on the Karate Kid sequel, Stallone handed the composing duties over to Vince DiCola (1986’s Transformers: The Movie). The score, loaded with the 80s style synth, for the most part, comes through in spades. With the slightest hint of Conti’s score (there’s an ever so slight reference to ‘Gunna Fly Now’ in the very end of the final fight) DiCola’s score has the goods to get anyone out of their chair ready to fight. No Easy Way Out, Training Montage and Burning Heart (composed by the returning Survivor) are all in a league of their own when it comes to movie soundtracks. In fact, the only one I did not like was Hearts on Fire, which was repetitive with a messy chorus).
Notice that I haven’t even mentioned Lundgren and Nielson. They are the center piece of villainy, as Stallone paints a picture of Drago showing up and taking over the boxing world just as the real country of Russia was looking to take over ours. However, Drago is also painted as a puppet, as the only way we know he is a villain is when he is pumped with steroids during the training montage. Lundgren, in his film debut, is fine and gets the job done. He fortunately does not have too many lines (or maybe unfortunately, as his mouth piece is supplied by his wife in the film, the horribly acted Ludmilla, which was done by Nielson, Stallone’s real life wife at the time). But, he is imposing, and does the job of getting Drago’s abilities of a killing machine to the forefront.
Rocky IV, by all intents and purposes, is the snapshot Stallone took of 80s excess back in 1985. Despite Stallone’s claims, it is not exactly written very well. But, if you are not the type that stands up and cheers along with montages and final fights, then this movie is not for you. However, while those few things always used to serve as background pieces (even though the third film started the pendulum swinging), here it is front and center. And, who can argue with success? The film ended up grossing more than $300 million and was the inspiration for Jim & John Thomas to write Predator. As a human story, the film falters. But, the simpleism that made the first few films a success, even with a select few of the female crowd, is still there.
3.5 out of 5