So I'm finally scratching the Rocky franchise off my cinematic bucket list, and now we get to one of the most beloved and most memorable of the series, Rocky IV.
Welcome to the 1980s, baby!
Any semblance of the 1970s grit and the gutters that Rocky pulled himself out of are completely gone. This is a 1980s blockbuster through and through, from the music, the pacing, the science-fictional equipment that Ivan Drago uses to train. This is a defining movie of 1980s style.
The robot sums that up the best. Why the hell is there a robot in a Rocky movie? In the post Star Wars-universe, everyone was getting a robot sidekick, and not even Rocky was immune.
Speaking of robots, "robotic" is the best way to sum up Rocky's opponent this time out, the Soviet super-boxer Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren in his star-making performance. Drago is a giant of a man, nothing but muscle, and speaks very few words. I think he only has 6 lines in the film, but they've all gone on to be such memorable catchphrases, such as "If he dies, he dies," and "I must break you." Lundgren really knew how to work with what little he was given. Drago just projects this quiet intensity, truly creating an intimidating performance.
After #3, with Rocky having successfully regained the heavyweight title, Ivan Drago and his team of trainers from the USSR come to the USA, as part of a goodwill tour. Drago is established as the #1 ranked amateur boxer in the world, and the Soviet Union has lifted their usual restrictions to allow Drago a shot at going pro. With his arrival in the States, and with the knowledge that Drago's first fight would be a huge draw, Apollo Creed decides to come out of retirement and take on Drago.
Rocky asks the valid question of whether Creed is fighting Drago or himself, and Creed admits that he's finding retirement to be frustrating, and he's just thrilled to get back in the ring again. It's something that Rocky lives to regret as, even though it's just a friendly exhibition match, Drago beats Creed to death.
Seeking vengeance for Creed's death, Rocky finally accepts Drago's challenge, and the fight is set for Moscow on Christmas Day. Rocky heads to the Soviet Union to train, and he does so in a secluded cabin, free of distraction where he can focus on his training. Meanwhile, in all its 1980s science-fiction glory, we're contrasted with Drago's training at an elite Soviet facility.
The big fight day comes. Needless to say, Drago has the home field advantage, as Rocky comes out to a chorus of boos from the Moscow crowd. But Rocky is Rocky, and when he manages the impossible -- cutting Drago -- people start seeing Drago isn't so superhuman. As the fight goes on, the crowd starts changing to cheer for Rocky, and wouldn't you know it, Rocky wins, and gives an impassioned speech to bring the Cold War to an end.
At this point, Stallone has the Rocky formula down to a science, so he doesn't waste time with a lot of superfluous subplots, which kind of explains why this is the shortest Rocky movie. That being said, this is the most montage-heavy Rocky movie. There's, like, 3 training montages, an opening credits montage, and a "reminiscing about Apollo" montage. That last montage really does show you how far this franchise has evolved, because it's full of clips from the previous movies. It's almost like, "Last time, on Rocky...."
The music. This is the only Rocky film without music by legendary film composer Bill Conti. Replacing Conti is Vince DiCola, who also did the music from one the most beloved cult classics from my childhood, The Transformers: The Movie. DiCola's theme for Drago does seem reminiscent of the theme he wrote for the giant planet killing Transformer Unicron. To bad DiCola didn't do more film work. He really had that "imposing doom" theme down pat. That being said, though, Gonna Fly Now is sorely missed from a training montage (although, DiCola does manage to sneak in a few bars).
When all's said and done, Rocky IV is very much a product of the 1980s, meaning it is cheezy, it is over-the-top, it is awesome.