Rocky IV ★★★★

Out of all the films people associate with the name Rocky Balboa, the fourth installment of the franchise seems to be the standout. It also happens to be the most commercially successful due to the current tensions going on between the United States and USSR at the time, and would be the last directorial effort from Sylvester Stallone for the next twenty-one years. For those who have not seen the film, the plot is that Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) arrives in the United States with his wife Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen) and a team of trainers from the Soviet Union and Cuba. His manager Nicolai Koloff (Michael Pataki) takes every opportunity to promote Drago's athleticism as a hallmark of Soviet superiority. Motivated by patriotism and an innate desire to prove himself, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) challenges Drago to an exhibition bout. Rocky has reservations, but agrees to train Apollo despite his misgivings about the match; when it results in tragedy and the Soviets' cold indifference enrages him, Rocky decides to challenge Drago himself.

When rewatching this film, I noticed it's about forty percent montages. In fact there may be more montages than boxing going on in the film, even during moments that never warrant a montage. It feels comical but that is what made the film become ingrained in our popular culture since we always reference the montages; editors John W. Wheeler and Don Zimmerman did a great job making these scenes flow easily from one to the other. Bill Butler returns as cinematographer for the film and gives it a polished shine that reflects both America and Russia as the stage for the two boxing matches; the lighting and color choices are perfectly executed and helps heighten the drama even if we know how the film is going to end. Taking over music duties this time is Vince DiCola, who is probably better known for Transformers: The Movie (1986), going with a synthesizer approach while also including the songs "Burning Heart" by Survivor, John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band's "Heart's on Fire" and "No Easy Way Out" by Robert Tepper. It's easily the most standout soundtrack of the Rocky films, and we even get a James Brown song titled "Living in America" thrown in for good measure. Stallone's writing is certainly not subtle since he makes Rocky become a literal Superman who represents America and its ideals, but his direction has improved and the final match near the end of the film is exciting as a result.

Dolph Lundgren is quite possibly the most intimidating opponent so far in the series even if he does not say many lines or have a distinct personality, but this would later open up many doors for the actor and he did a good job with the material he was given. Stallone still makes Rocky a likable character and while his final speech after the conclusion of the match feels like it took a cue from Rambo II (which also came out the same year), he nevertheless remains committed to the character he helped popularize. Talia Shire, Burt Young and Carl Weathers also return in their familiar roles but are going through the motions this time, and Stallone's future wife Brigitte Nielsen does not leave that huge of an impression as Drago's wife. Tony Burton, who I've yet to mention in previous Rocky reviews, returns as Apollo Creed's trainer and manager Duke and continues to be a wonderful supporting character that pushes Rocky to get ready for the upcoming match. Wyoming, Jackson Hole, and the Grand Teton National Park locations stand in for the exteriors of the Soviet Union and are wonderful to see in Blu-ray high definition.

Rocky IV may feel dated for some viewers (or maybe comes across relevant given the results of the 2016 election and the ongoing claims that Russia had a hand in it), but I really enjoyed the film and all of its cheesiness hence the four star rating I gave it. The general public at the time also thought the same thing, since this film remained the highest grossing sports movie for twenty-four years before it was overtaken by 2009's The Blind Side. It also remains the shortest entry with a runtime of 91 minutes so if you have time to spare and want to revisit the 80s, check out Rocky IV.