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Review: Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago (2021)

Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago (2021)

Directed by: Sylvester Stallone

Premise: The director’s cut of the 1985 movie. In the midst of the Cold War, Russian fighter Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a genetically enhanced fighter with incredible punching power, kills Apollo Creed in an exhibition match. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) agrees to fight Drago.

What Works: Extended and alternate versions of movies have become a popular Hollywood technique for wringing more revenue out of old titles. Many of these new cuts are simply cash grabs that add a few scenes for the sake of justifying a new release but some, such as the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II and the Final Cut of Blade Runner, offer an alternative and superior version of the movie. The director’s cut of Rocky IV transforms the 1985 picture. It’s still Rocky IV—the overall story hasn’t changed—but the director’s cut adds a great deal of footage that was omitted from the 1985 version and these additions are mostly character moments. Adrian (Talia Shire) had almost nothing to do in the theatrical version. Her screentime is expanded to allow Rocky and Adrian’s relationship a proper arc. Rocky’s motivations are also clearer in this version. In the theatrical cut, Rocky’s decision to fight Ivan Drago was motivated by revenge but in the director’s cut Rocky’s choices are driven by guilt over Apollo’s death. In addition to adding new scenes, the director’s cut of Rocky IV also reedits existing scenes to change the subtext. The politics of Rocky IV are now more nuanced and the biggest revelation of the director’s cut is the character of Ivan Drago. Where he was a Terminator-like villain in the theatrical cut, Drago is now a sympathetic figure who is a tool of the Soviet state and the meaning of the climactic fight is much different. The new version of Rocky IV also changes the tone. Along with Flashdance and Purple Rain, the 1985 cut of Rocky IV epitomized the MTV-influenced filmmaking style popular at the time. The montages are still there but the effect is softened. This makes the film more consistent with the style of the rest of the Rocky series and allows the dramatic beats some room to breathe. On the whole, these changes complicate and deepen what was a simplistic and superficial movie and strengthen the connections between Rocky IV and Creed II.

What Doesn’t: Some of the additions of Rocky IV are baggy. That’s most obvious in the prologue sequence that summarizes the events of Rocky III. It delays the start of the present story and does not add enough to justify its length. A few other added scenes, especially those with Apollo Creed, tend to reinforce ideas that have already been made. The director’s cut also uses alternate takes, often substituting closeups for wide shots that are not as interesting. Drago’s wife, played by Brigitte Nielsen, is nearly cut out of this version which seems like a mistake given the reappearance of her character in Creed II.

DVD extras: Currently available on Amazon.

Bottom Line: Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago is overall an improvement. Fans who grew up with the 1985 cut will probably prefer that version but the director’s cut adds a soulfulness and depth to Rocky IV that makes for more interesting viewing. 

Episode: #879 (November 21, 2021)