Rocky IV is, in some ways, the polar opposite of the original Rocky. Yet behind the original, it’s arguably the second most popular (often neck-and-neck, I’d say, with Rocky III). Some might argue that it’s the most superfluous of all the Rocky sequels; instead of advancing the character like previous sequels did, this is merely another “adventure” for him – much like how most of the Bond movies are just another adventure for 007. It’s certainly the leanest of all the Rocky movies; if you strip away the opening (which, like Rocky II‘s opening, recaps the previous movie’s ending), the multiple montages, and James Brown’s performance, the movie’s like an hour long. Supporting players (Adrian, Paulie, Apollo), though present, mostly fall by the wayside, and are reduced to caricatures: Adrian the worried but supportive wife, Paulie the perpetually complaining comic relief, etc. It’s all about Rocky’s quest to (once again) overcome the odds as he faces a new opponent, and there doesn’t seem to be much need for anything else. Like I said, by this point it’s like a Bond film, or a comic book: a new villain, a new challenge. And the entertainment value is through the roof.

The movie starts with an image of an American and a Soviet boxing glove colliding and exploding. If that doesn’t clue you in that we’re a long way from the first Rocky, nothing will. Then we’re treated to a pretty pointless recap of Rocky and Apollo’s friendly sparring session from the end of Rocky III, which I guess serves to show people who skipped that one that these two are buddies now. Then we check in on Rocky’s clan as they celebrate Paulie’s birthday. Rocky’s gift to Paulie is a giant talking robot maid; clearly, Rocky has so much money he can afford things in 1985 that still don’t exist in 2011. After this, the movie gets down to business: a towering, Terminator-like Soviet boxer named Ivan Drago is coming to visit the States, and naturally, an attention-starved Apollo wants first dibs to fight him. The match is set up as a friendly exhibition bout, and Apollo, ever the showman, stages it in Vegas and has James Brown open the show. The Russians are all business, however, and Drago knocks the shit out of Apollo, before delivering a final blow to the head that kills him. Now Rocky wants revenge, of course, and since the American Boxing Commission won’t sanction the fight, he relinquishes his title and heads off to Russia, to grow a beard and get his montage on.

The funniest thing about Rocky IV is how montage heavy it is. In addition to a back-to-back pair of training montages, there’s an earlier montage that’s essentially a full-length music video, where Rocky speeds around in his Lamborghini while reminiscing about the good ol’ days when Apollo was still alive. Add in a full-length performance by James Brown, and you can imagine just how short Stallone’s script must have been. Still, it’s entertaining as hell, and in the wake of the slightly bloated Rocky II, perhaps less is more sometimes. The score by Vince DiCola (replacing Bill Conti) is radically different (read: ’80s as fuck) but no less awesome, and songs like “Heart’s On Fire” and “No Easy Way Out” were destined for people’s workout mixes. Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” of course makes an encore appearance too, and new addition “Burning Heart” is just as cheesy and great. Anyway, back to the plot. Rocky takes the beating of a lifetime but, as always, somehow perseveres. As countless others have joked before, Rocky IV ends the Cold War. After giving him a suitably chilly reception, the Russian crowd inexplicably switches sides and begins cheering for Rocky midway through the fight, even though their own hero (Ivan Drago) ostensibly does nothing wrong. Rocky seems dumbfounded by it too, but somehow whips up a little motivational speech at the end about how everybody can change. Better cue up “Heart’s On Fire” again, cause that song is the tits. Rocky IV has no shortage of cheese, and on paper it sounds completely ludicrous, and a far cry from what made the original so endearing. Well, it’s both of those things…but it’s also ridiculously fun, so all is forgiven. Check it out.

Least favorite part: That stupid fucking robot. Really, Sly?

Favorite (non-montage or fight) part: Slim pickings, since half of this movie is a montage or a fight. I always liked the little scene where Duke, Apollo’s former trainer, gives Rocky a pep talk before sending him off to Montage Land. “You’re gonna have to go through hell. Worse than any nightmare you ever dreamed. But in the end, I know you’ll be the one standing.” Of course, one could argue that what he was really talking about was Rocky V


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