Sunday, 28 July 2019

Movie Review: Rocky IV (1985)


A distillation of the Cold War into a boxing fight, Rocky IV is sloppily written and unconvincingly executed.

With boxing world champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) enjoying the comfortable life with his wife Adrian (Talia Shire) and young son, the USSR announces a new challenger: the gigantic and hard-hitting Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) has been trained using the latest technology by the Soviet state to dominate the world of professional boxing. His wife and publicist Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) throws down the gauntlet, and retired former world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), seeking to revive old glories, jumps at the opportunity to take on Drago in an exhibition bout.

Rocky and Adrian are unable to talk Apollo out of stepping into the Las Vegas ring with Drago, and their worst fears are confirmed: Apollo is killed at the end of a short and one-sided bout. Rocky decides he has to defend the honour and reputation of his deceased friend, gives up his title and accepts an unsanctioned fight with Drago, this time in the Soviet Union on Christmas Day. Rocky relocates to Russia and starts intensive training.

The fourth instalment of the Rocky saga shows clear signs of a franchise in distress. Now made entirely of recycled components, writer, director and star Sylvester Stallone simplifies the Cold War into the evil and soulless Soviets out to prove their superiority by knocking the Americans off their boxing domination perch.

While Drago is an admittedly epic villain, Dolph Lundgren's expressionless look and sculpted physique an imposing presence, the script - in its entirety - could fit on a single sheet of paper. The sparse words are made worse by music bloated with the most excruciatingly painful mid-80s pop rock, and the product placement is of the retina-burning variety, Adidas and Hugo Boss the main corporate culprits. Burt Young as Paulie is well past his usefulness as a character, and he is appropriately matched with a robot companion in a bewildering narrative decision.

The material is too thin to occupy 90 minutes, and the filler is all too obvious. One montage scene features Rocky driving around aimlessly as random images from all three past movies are revisited. The de rigueur training scenes intercut Rocky working out in and around a remote cabin nestled in the snowy Russian wilderness with Drago going through his paces in a high-tech gym. Just when it seems the training has gone on for far too long, Stallone resets, reloads and starts all over again.

Rocky IV is all about the final showdown between Rocky and Drago, and here the film leaves all pretense of reality behind. Even by Hollywood standards the fight is a ridiculous brawl with more massively heavy punches landing in one bout than in the entire history of the heavyweight division. The Soviet crowd somehow ends up cheering for the American in the presence of the entire Soviet politburo, and Rocky delivers his weakest post-fight speech, something about all of us needing to change. Good advice for this franchise to heed.






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