When a movie is 90 minutes long, you assume that it either has not much to cover or it’s perfectly precise with every detail. This is Rocky, so you can nix the latter.
The story for the 4th installment is stretched way too thin, which is probably why there are so many montages–even for a Rocky film. At one point there’s a 2 minute long flashback montage to the tune of some generic ’80s song. It’s supposed to be Rocky reminiscing on his life and career, but some of the things don’t even make sense why he would be reminiscing about them, given the context. It’s really just a bunch of unconnected and randomly selected scenes splunched together recapping the series thus far–much like a TV show does towards the end of its run as an homage to its fans. It’s weird and out of place.
Although, the first training montage is perhaps the best we’ve gotten in this series so far.
Before I go on, my summary is going to reveal a spoiler. Since it occurs within the first 30 minutes of the film and propels the entire story, I think it’s important to mention.
Soviet fighter, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), comes to America to take on American talent. His people claim he’s the next big thing and that he can take down any US boxer without much of a fight. His punch registers more than double the PSI of an average heavyweight fighter. Apollo Creed takes this taunting personally and feels it’s his duty to defend America’s honor by fighting Drago.
Creed hasn’t fought in 5 years and comes out of retirement way too quickly. He gets carried away, rushing into the match without really training much beforehand. So when Drago punches Apollo during the match, it lands so hard that it kills him.
A death that should have been emotional ends up feeling comical. Creed definitely doesn’t get the proper treatment.
So Rocky, now furious, decides to take matters in his own hands and avenge Creed’s death–which is apparently a more important issue to him than surviving to be with his wife and son. He goes to Russia to train so he can beat the apparently unbeatable Drago. It’s a suicide mission.
Besides the dialogue being cheesy and having one too many sappy speeches, the script makes some questionable choices. For instance, one of Drago’s few lines not only is unnecessary, but it ruins the moment of Apollo’s death. In regards to Creed getting knocked out, the Soviet says, “If he dies, he dies.” It’s absurd! I mean, Drago has barely said a word, why not keep it that way? If anything, it would have been better if we got a bit later on where Rocky tries to get an apology from Drago and he refuses. Then, maybe, would it have justified Rocky’s vendetta. Otherwise, his rage just feels forced and contrived.
Rocky IV is uneventful and unnecessary. It’s like Stallone just ran out of creativity. He just loves this formula that he’s discovered so much that he uses it once again here. But this time, it feels much more empty. You can’t help but feel like Creed’s death is only there to justify the existence of another movie. Because it’s the only important thing that happens in this installment.
The rare bright spot in this film is the break-out performance of Lundgren. He remains stoic as long as necessary, truly making the audience believe that he’s actually an evil Soviet fighter. But his villainy will be mostly in vain.
Paulie is also very important in this story. While he was sort of obnoxious in the previous couple of movies, his presence helps ground the story amidst the craziness of the 1980s. His salt-of-the-earth nature constantly reminds us of Rocky’s humble roots–and of this film series’ humble roots. This nuance was undoubtedly inadvertent, however important.
But it’s not even close to enough to save this film. Where Rocky III is ’80s in its over-the-top silliness, bordering on fun, Rocky IV is ’80s in its attempt to solve the Regan-era Cold War politics–which it doesn’t.
At least the 3rd film redeems itself in the 2nd half. This one spirals into near-nothingness. It’s hardly any fun. It’s a movie that has contrived an event to kill off a character so that the other character can avenge the death of his friend, which didn’t even need to happen in the first place.
As much as I wasn’t crazy about Rocky III, I could watch it again. It’s entertaining. But with this one, I sat anxious waiting for it to end.