Plot: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has carved out a place for himself as one of the greatest boxers of all time, becoming the world champion and winning some of the biggest fights ever. While he faced down some impressive opponents in the past, a new threat emerges from Russia, a monstrous soldier turned pugilist named Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Drago seems to be almost superhuman, with punching power that breaks measuring devices and an ice cold persona that lends itself well to one on one combat. He wants a title fight with Rocky of course, but before that happens, he takes an exhibition fight with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky’s former rival and current best friend. Creed is confident as always, but quickly learns how dangerous Drago is, even in what is supposed to be an exhibition, not a real fight. After Creed succumbs to his injuries and Drago shows no remorse, Rocky decides he will face off with the Russian juggernaut, despite heavy odds against him. He has always risen to the challenge before, but can even Rocky stand a chance against Drago?
Entertainment Value: I don’t think this is the best movie in the Rocky franchise, but it is likely the most popular installment and has some of the series’ most iconic moments, so Rocky IV is no mere sequel. The narrative is in line with the rest of Rocky’s struggles, as he suffers setbacks and encounters loss, only to find himself in the ring as the underdog against a skilled opponent. There’s nothing subtle about the story here, it pulls on the heartstrings with reckless abandon, but I think the series earned the emotional beats found here. The relationship between Rocky and Apollo has been given ample time to develop and evolve, so while this is clear manipulation, the groundwork has been laid to make it hit like a truck. The banter between the two and how their bond evolved was a highlight for me in the franchise, so while Creed’s fate is tragic, it makes perfect sense to propel Rocky into his next showdown. I’m sure some will find fault with the sentiment, patriotism, and predictable elements, but to me, this is Rocky doing what Rocky does what best, so it earns a high recommendation.
Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky is good as usual and of course, by this point he has the role down to a science. He doesn’t bring much new to the character, but he hits all the expected beats and brings his great presence as always, so his lead carries the movie well. But it is tough to compete with Carl Weathers’ incredible ring entrance as Apollo Creed, one of the biggest spectacle moments in the franchise and an iconic set piece in general. Weathers is pure charisma as always in the role of Creed, bringing a lot to his limited screen time in this one. But the movie is often stolen by Dolph Lundgren, in one of his earliest roles, but he projects massive screen presence and makes Drago into one of cinema’s coldest villains. His physical presence alone conveys harrowing odds for our hero, but Lundgren makes the most of his few lines of dialogue, many of which would become much quoted by the series’ fan base. The cast also includes Burt Young, Talia Shire, Tony Burton, Brigitte Nielsen, and Michael Pataki.