There are some flaws in the fourth entry in the Rocky series (I’m looking at that ridiculous robot) and I’m not sure the themes of East vs. West, hubris, and capitalism carry through all the way, because, despite all of the things Rocky (Sylvester Stallone who also wrote and directed) gives up during the course of the film to go training in the wilds of Russia, you know that once it’s over, he’s on a plane home back to his big, robot-inhabited house (something that Stallone removes from his director’s cut).
We’re given a brief recap of the previous film before joining Rocky, Adrian (Talia Shire), their kid, and Paulie (Burt Young) in his expansive household, and an arrival of a giant Russian boxer, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in the United States looking for an exhibition bout with Rocky Balboa.
Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is intent on stepping in the ring before Rocky gets a chance however, intent on proving he’s still got it, that he’s still a worthy competitor. So he turns to Rocky to help train him.
Apollo’s a showman, Drago is a machine, and when they both arrive in Vegas for a premium ticket event, Apollo learns that right before it kills him (literally).
Then begins no less than four different montages set to Survivor and other now-forgotten 80s bands, that show us the emotional repercussions and Rocky’s training that will lead to a final showdown, in Russia with Rocky squaring off against Drago in front of the Politburo as well as a Gorbachev look-a-like, with Rocky bringing a message of understanding and acceptance before the credits roll against Balboa swathed in an American flag.
A lot of the commentary is a little too on the nose, the film isn’t subtle, but outside of the stupid robot, it’s actually a pretty solid film, though the soundtrack doesn’t work as well as I think Stallone thought it did.
In fact, the iconic Rocky theme is blatantly missing from the film, it’s hinted at a few times throughout the movie, but we never hear and embrace it like we have in the previous three films.
I like the entire cast with the exception of Burt Young’s Paulie, this is a character I’ve never liked, he’s never given a real arc (in any of the films) and he just plays as being the worst of America, racist, complaining, and concerned with instant gratification. Rocky talks about people changing, but I don’t see Paulie doing that.
Survivor followed up their iconic theme, Eye of the Tiger, with the less inspiring Burning Heart, which like the film itself is a little too on the nose regarding its subject matter.
That being said watching Drago tour over Balboa, watching Lundgren and Stallone square off in the boxing ring. It’s a pretty awesome sequence, even if it ends as predictably as we know it will. And that ends up being the biggest problem with the way the films have progressed since the first film, the odds may be against Rocky, but a good training montage will solve that before the end of the film.
Let’s see what he does in Rocky V!