Movie Review: ‘Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago The Ultimate Director’s Cut’ is a silly, unneeded alternative creation from Sylvester Stallone
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Brigitte Nielsen, and Dolph Lundgren
Synopsis: Rocky Balboa proudly holds the world heavyweight boxing championship, but a new challenger has stepped forward: Drago, a six-foot-four, 261-pound fighter who has the backing of the Soviet Union.
In 1985, the fourth installment of the classic Sylvester Stallone-starring Sports franchise, Rocky IV, was released, and people were excited to see what happens next after Rocky fought Mr. T’s Clubber Lang. However, the film’s reviews weren’t that positive, and it is the franchise’s most divisive picture for many reasons: lack of tone coherence, the cheesiness of it all, the same rhythmic beats narratively, and some odd choices were added, like Paulie’s robot. People expected something more, something that elevated the finales of the first and second movies, but it never quite found its footing. Nevertheless, its ending is really memorable, and the Rocky versus Drago fight is considered a classic matchup, even if the picture overall doesn’t work in its entirety. Unfortunately, Stallone didn’t know what to do next with the franchise, which was evident as the runtime progressed. It was a box office success, as most of them are, but critically fractured.
The fifth installment also suffered from some of the same aspects the fourth one did, and audiences were growing tired of it. So now, 36-years after its release, Stallone decided to go back and tune the film for a better fit, one that would do justice to the emotional story and the character arcs in them. Of course, there is always a risk with directors returning to their work years after the fact and making a new rendition or cut of it, but it often works if the one in helm knows precisely what they are doing, and its reason be made. Great examples are Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux cut back in 2001, which was released 22 years after its release, the multiple variations of Blade Runner (1982), or the Richard Donner cut of Superman II (1981). Stallone’s new version, titled Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago The Ultimate Director’s Cut, does indeed change the pacing and tone of the original to have more emotional jabs; however, some tamperings are a bit daft.
After reclaiming the boxing championship title, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) plans to retire to go on with his life and stay with his wife, Adrian (Talia Shire). Nonetheless, a crucial incident causes him to step back on retirement. During an exhibition match, his close friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is callously beaten to death by the brawny Russian, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Rocky now vows to avenge Creed’s death by fighting Drago. Both of them have a long and intense match awaiting them. Who will stand tall in the fight of the century?
As mentioned before, Stallone’s main focus with this director’s cut is to enhance the emotional punches and strip back some of the needless scenes that cause modulation shifts during the film’s preparation towards the coup de grâce that everyone’s waiting for. The changes begin with the opening of the film, where instead of getting a recap of what happened in the previous picture, it wants to dive deeper into what Apollo Creed means to Rocky and the vital role that he plays in his life. Some of the other significant changes are the total obliteration of the fan loathed robot (thank heavens for that), and flashbacks sequences are now in black & white (which, in my opinion, seems a bit doltish). The rest are subtle minor changes that you may overlook if you aren’t comparing them directly: angle changes, shots from a different perspective, adding a few more seconds to a scene, etc. This cut adds a total of 40-minutes of new footage that is interworked all over the film, adding only two to three minutes to the original runtime.
The Rocky IV story arc remains the same; there aren’t changes to the narrative as a whole. Yet, the shift in pacing makes it feel more breathable, unlike the original, which runs 100-miles-per-hour to get to the big fight and adds training montages to fill the runtime. Stallone wanted the audience to feel the impact of Balboa’s decisions and Creed’s death way more, so he made the wise decision of concentrating on character reactions and interactions instead of stuff happening with no coherence. Although, yes, the problems with the original storyline, the semi-shoddy screenplay, and sort of sleazy instances are still there, be that as it may, it is a far more entertaining watch than before. The essence of “don’t know what to do next” is quite noticeable, sadly, a reason why he gave John G. Avildsen the shot to direct Rocky V (1990).
In the end, was this director’s cut actually needed? Was it worth it? I would answer yes, but with some reservations. You can take Rocky IV a bit more seriously now because it trims the unnecessary fat of the original, and there are far smarter decisions than poor ones. Tone and pacing switcheroos do the heart-pounding substances some justice, even though its story still has holes that can’t be patched up; Stallone did a fine job trying to fasten a broken film.