Oh man, Rocky IV… This is when the series really got out there. I’ve long held the belief that this is not a good movie, even though it’s such a delightful moviegoing experience. And after rewatching it the other night, after reading about Sylvester Stallone’s intention to recut the movie (without the totally realistic, common household appliance Robot), it’s safe to say that my opinion on the movie hasn’t faltered.
Can you blame me though? Like, this movie is big, dumb and sticks out like a sore thumb in the franchise. It just does. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is the reigning heavyweight champ of the world and gets embroiled in the Cold War when his best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is killed in the ring by a stone cold/roided-out fighter from the Soviet Union named Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). What happens after that is a couple training montages, the most one sided fight in boxing film history, and a surprising (in the context of the film and not in the context of watching it) upset victory. Oh, and Rocky ends the Cold War.
This movie simply doesn’t fit in with the rest of the franchise in damn near every way possible. The plot is overblown and injected with a health dose of Reagan-era patriotism (is there a bigger “Reagan film” than this? Death Wish III maybe?), Vince DiCola’s original score is heavily synthesized and barely resembles the iconic themes/motiffs used in literally every other Rocky film by Bill Conti, and the nuance/characterization of the Rocky characters that made them so endearing and real is gone. Paulie dates a robot, need I say more?
It’s easy to point at those aspects of the movie and call this the worst Rocky movie ever. And honestly, I kinda think it is if we’re talking about Rocky movies. Rocky V was definitely worse than this, as far as films themselves go, but Rocky IV does a worse job of fitting in with the franchise as a whole to me. Does that make it a boring or bland movie? Well, maybe a little bland, but certainly not boring! There’s no way a movie with Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” and John Cafferty’s “Hearts on Fire” could be considered boring!
This movie is filled with laughs, memorable dialogue, incredible music (Drago’s suite is fitting of a future sequence in a Terminator movie and I would pay hand over foot for an albums worth of this kind of brooding music that was done by Vince DiCola and Brad Fidel), and a pretty brisk runtime of around 90 minutes, making it the shortest Rocky movie. Again, this is all actually pretty great, even if it doesn’t make sense for a Rocky sequel.
And that should be a pretty big dealbreaker for me. A franchise needs to feel cohesive after all, right? Well… I honestly don’t think so! In the same way that Marvel movies allow themselves to deviate into being closer to genre exercises (With Captain America: The Winter Soldier being an espionage thriller, Iron Man III being a classic Shane Black story, etc), I kinda like that Rocky IV is the series’ “big dumb 80s propaganda film.” It suits it well and, if you’re working through the series, makes for a pretty good way to switch things up a bit. And after roughly 6 hours of Rocky movies, you could probably use that change in tone, don’t you think?
I’m ultimately glad that Stallone tried to course correct after Rocky IV (even if he didn’t truly succeed at it until Rocky Balboa in 2006), because a franchise like Rocky can only really survive one movie as off-base as this one. But man, what a great way to kill an hour and a half, am I right? And what a time capsule for the 80s and all it’s cool and totally real robots/gadgets.
Like this review and wanna hear my thoughts on another definitively 80s Stallone movie? Cool! Feel free to check out my podcast Media Obscura on your favorite podcast player! We actually did an entire month of Stallone movies last year on it, like the episode embedded below about his Cannon film “Over the Top!”