Nine years after the original instalment, Rocky IV represented quite the turning point in the franchise. The original was a genre-defining masterpiece that introduced the world to an edgy, unique character and set the benchmark for all future sports films. By Rocky IV the films had become everything that the first railed against. Cliched, predictable and completely soulless, even Rocky was a shadow of his former self.
Having overcome the odds once again in the previous film, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is made aware of undefeated Soviet fighter Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). After watching his friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) get beaten and eventually killed in the ring by the man mountain, Rocky must use all of his heart, determination and training to try and defeat Drago in Moscow, the heart of Soviet Russia.
Rocky’s original opponent, the flamboyant-yet-flawed Creed was the perfect foil for underdog Rocky. He represented a real person with real emotion and driving passion. By the time we reach Drago, all emotional and character depth has gone and we’re left with a cipher of Soviet Russia, seemingly unstoppable but ultimately there to be conquered and defeated by the stars and stripes draped American hero.
To say that Rocky IV is patriotic would be quite the understatement and its nationalistic fervour borders on religious fundamentalism. In one of the more preposterous scenes the Moscow crowd actually start chanting Ro-cky, Ro-cky including the head of the regime. You see this is American military might in human form. Rocky is so powerful that even the hard-line communists can’t hide their secret love for this capitalist icon.
All the stars seem on auto-pilot, occasionally popping in to do what they’ve done in all of the previous three films before disappearing from sight and mind. If ever there was a ˜cash-in’ film, Rocky IV is it.
The narrative structure follows previous instalments and comprises of an introduction to the enemy, a loss, some drama and a win. This time however the drama is replaced with endless musical montages, which in previous instalments were well handled and added emotional clout to the finale, but this time feel tired and overused. It seemed that Rocky IV would be the nadir of the franchise, but fans were unaware that the fifth film was just around the corner.