Rocky IV Review

Deterioration is inevitable. As a series staggers on, there are only those rare glimmers that will outshine the predecessors. Rocky, especially those sequels that followed on from its second instalment, are ramshackle affairs that wish to fly on the wings and merit of the first two. Its rise and fall of the underdog story are complete, and now the series must, once again, turn to pastures new. Or at least, that should have happened. Instead, it opens with Eye of the Tiger and ends with the hero of America standing tall above the villain of Russia. As on the nose as sports dramas go, Rocky IV is the emotionally overwrought, uneventfully rough piece from dangerously drained minds.

They’re clutching at straws. With his fourth starring role and third as director, Sylvester Stallone tries his hand at blurring entertainment with political commentary. He forgets to include both and leaves the lingering premises of both colliding into one another. It is all on the tip of his writing for much of the film. Stallone dances around the edges of what he wishes to say, and with some focused, honed conviction, he would have had a message that at least reflected the thinking minds of America. But Rocky is not meant to be that way. It is the only film in the series that tries to have some stake in the political debate.

Even Creed II, the spin-off sequel that brought back the evil Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) has both mellowed out and accepted the tale of revenge, rather than two heavyweight countries battling it out for sporting (and political) domination. Such stories would not fly now, and it is surprising they ever came close to fruition in the days of Rocky IV. Drago bumps off Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in horribly unceremonious fashion, and it is clear from here on in that the franchise is happy to bump off whoever, whenever they can, for that gut-punch, shocking moment. Next, they’ll kill off the robot butler so graciously gifted to Paulie (Burt Young). That’ll be the day the heart and soul of the franchise dies, fitting that it should still die with one of the most worked-up, over-the-top pieces the series had to offer.

Much like its titular character, the Rocky series has been fighting on, round after round. It does not have the dexterity or pace Stallone provided the series, and stumbles around the ring, waiting for that final, fatal blow. That much would come soon enough, but Rocky IV is a tremendous lull, bolstered greatly by its ties to the fall of Communism in East Germany. It is a fascinating time capsule of history, where Balboa takes down the terror of the East with a swift clip to the jaw, all the while redeeming and avenging his own fallen comrades. There is something rather sickly about that style, not by what Rocky IV wishes to show, but how it shows it. Clearly taking too many blows to the head, Balboa strolls through an uneventful fourth film, its few moments of drama jumping the shark and shaking free from the core value of the character at the heart of it all.

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