Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago Review
There have been mixed reviews of the new directors cut of Rocky IV. Much like the original release, it divides opinion.
The fourth film, and the most successful commercially in the franchise, has always been the most ‘marmite’ of the Rocky films and I very much get why some label it as a great bad movie.
Originally released in 1985 and astoundingly successful at the Box Office, but it was always the Rocky film that left me a little cold. Enjoyable it certainly was, but it moved even further away from the charm of the first two entries in the never-ending tales of the one-time struggling Philadelphia down and out slugger.
Tensions between America and Russia were high at the time the film was first released. I remember the veteran film critic Barry Norman joke that Sylvester Stallone was trying to start World War 3 all on his own. Rocky IV was largely the reference point for the remark. Although another Stallone creation, Rambo, certainly added much to the thoughts of Norman. The Reagan Cold War times certainly provoked the political side of Stallone to come out on camera.
We all know the story of the film, the giant and laboratory manufactured Russian amateur Ivan Drago coming to America to try and get a fight with the all American hero Rocky Balboa until Apollo Creed created his own narrative to re-enter the fold. It was American propaganda from the era at its finest.
For me, Rocky IV always lacked soul and character development and an overreliance on training montages. It was akin to the MTV music videos of the day. Stallone certainly knew what he was doing, but it took away plenty from what made the original Rocky work so well.
It was very much a missed opportunity to develop further the relationship between the old rivals Balboa and Creed. The new version attempts to right the wrongs of that particular shortfall. It partially succeeds. Stallone has obviously learned from what the second Creed offering did well, although that film also had many shortcomings. Mainly dusting off and repeating past storylines.
Stallone has added 40 odd minutes of new material with a similar amount of the more disposable content removed. Although in truth it is hard to see where all of the new 40 minutes are in the reworked version. Some of the additions are more subtle than noticeable.
There is more footage leading up to the Drago/Creed fight, a little more detail at the funeral of Creed, and the beyond reality Christmas Day fight finalie in Russia is extended further. The new edit certainly adds more depth to the film. It was very much needed. Now it’s more film rather than one long pop video.
The new version does now seem a lot more tighter and the film carries more substance as a result. Drago certainly is given a bit more of a human touch, and we see a little glimpse of what could have been between Balboa and Creed.
The storyline of the ageing Creed and his desire and need to return to the ring always should have been explored further. It was pivotal to the opening segments of the film, and it had the feeling that a main character in the series was killed off with little meaning. It felt rushed and underdeveloped.
The film still feels like an over-the-top cash-and-grab part of the Rocky saga, but the new directors cut is a far better experience than the original theatrical version. It still is my least favourite entry in the Rocky series, and yes, I even prefer the much-maligned Rocky V, even though I know I am very much in the minority with that viewpoint.
Stallone has added a little bit of something that was missing from the 1985 cut. There were of course limits to what was achievable, with only content that was originally left on the cutting room floor at Stallone’s disposal.
Nobody was crying out for a reworking of the film, and without a lockdown, we almost certainly wouldn’t have got one. But Stallone has done what he could, and while the film now, in many ways, looks and feels a little dated, this observer much prefers the new over the old.