In the long pantheon of cinematic action movie stars, Sylvester “Sly” Stallone is a rarity. Stallone won a Best Screenwriting Oscar for both writing and starring as the titular hero of 1976’s boxing drama “Rocky”. In the ensuing four decades since that star making role, the iconic Stallone has gone on to star in a slew of hits (“Cobra”, “The Specialist”, “Cliffhanger”) as well as franchises (“The Expendables” and “Rambo” films) but Rocky Balboa is probably his most memorable creation and he has smartly revisited the character several times in five “Rocky” sequels and two “Creed” films . Now that “Creed II” has opened to strong box office numbers, let us look back on perhaps the guiltiest installment of the Rocky series, 1985’s star-spangled guilty pleasure “Rocky IV”.
“Rocky IV” is a great example of just how nutty the movies become as they go through the series. This entry had not one but two talking robots as costars as well as a couple music videos thrown in for the teenagers. This cheesy, American-flag waving hit came out at the height of Reagan-era Cold War hysteria when Russia was the USA’s biggest enemy. Naturally, no better place for a cinematic villain to come from, right? Star, Writer and now Director Stallone shrewdly thought so.
If you didn’t see the first three “Rocky” films, no fear, there’s enough flashbacks to make an Alzheimer’s patient nostalgic.
If you didn’t see the first three “Rocky” films, no fear, there’s enough flashbacks to make an Alzheimer’s patient nostalgic. The film begins with a newly retired Rocky enjoying life with his son Rocky Jr and his annoying as hell wife Adrian (returnee Talia Shire). While hanging with his former rival/current best buddy Apollo Creed (series alum Carl Weathers), they see on tv that Ivan Drago, a new boxer from the Soviet Union has come to America and wants to fight both Apollo and Rocky. Surprisingly, Rocky admits that he ain’t at the top of his game anymore and doesn’t think he could easily beat Drago. Apollo is far more confident of his own skills and unwisely decides to fight him in an ultra-flashy match in Las Vegas.
Drago (played by then -newcomer Dolph Lundgren) is a steroid-enhanced, massive, 6’5, 250 pound blond who has all of five lines of dialogue in the entire film. He seems more robot-like than the actual robots. Perhaps that is why his wife Ludmilla, played by Brigitte Nielsen (Stallone’s real wife at the time) seems to do all the talking for him. All the more frightening is the fact that Ludmilla looks nearly identical to her husband and shares the same win at any cost mentality as her beloved Terminator.
Rocky IV would be a guilty pleasure for the completely bonkers Vegas sequences alone. To see Drago’s bewildered expression after ascending via hydraulics to the boxing ring where a James Brown performance, complete with dancing showgirls, flying airplanes and Creed dressed as Uncle Sam underway is priceless. Drago might be on steroids but he definitely thinks the Americans are on acid. After Brown’s “Living In America” musical interlude ends, Drago is apparently even less of an Apollo Creed fan than he is of James Brown and demonstrates this by beating the snot out of him. Refusing to throw in the towel despite Rocky’s pleas, Creed (spoiler alert!) eventually drops dead in the ring and a guilt-ridden Rocky vows to avenge his friend’s death by challenging Drago to a fight in (you guessed it) Russia!!!
It’s amusing to see the influence MTV had on films produced in this era, as this gem has more music video-inspired montages than all of the Rocky films combined. After nearly 15 minutes of Rocky training in the woods of the USSR (to the strains of John Cafferty’s “Hearts On Fire”) he’s ready for Drago. Rocky has whipped himself into such good shape in the ring, that not only does he NOT get killed, Drago’s own comrades start to cheer for HIM instead! How ya like that, Communist sons of bitches! Not surprisingly (another huge spoiler alert folks) Rocky beats Drago in the end, thus foreshadowing the fall of the Evil Empire and allowing for more sequels to come.
Sadly, Nielsen’s time onscreen as Drago’s wife lasted longer than her tenure as Stallone’s in reality. She proved in divorce court (and in the tabloid bonanza that followed) that she was far scarier than Drago ever could be.
Rocky IV is not without it’s merits though. Stallone has an easy-going and believable chemistry with series returnee Carl Weathers, which would make even the toughest Italian Stallion choke up when Creed meets his doomed fate. Burt Young returns once more as abrasive, cigar chomping (and scene stealing) Uncle Paulie to provide comic relief.
Rocky IV is available for streaming on iTunes, HULU, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Crackle, YouTube and Google Play.
Creed II is now playing in theaters.
ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTOR:
Greg Lewis is a pop culture and entertainment vulture. As a freelance writer living in LA, he’ll never run out of material, even if he runs out of Xanax.