Italian-American boxing champion Rocky Balboa becomes an all-American hero by taking on Russia in the ring, the Eastern Bloc represented by formidable Soviet slugger Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). Having already killed Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) during an exhibition match in the States, Drago sets his sights on the reigning Heavyweight Champion of the World, keen to prove his superiority over the West. Determined to avenge his friend, Rocky flies to the USSR to train, his old-school techniques in stark contrast with Drago's high-tech regime (which includes pumping steroids: those dirty, cheatin' Russkies!).
If you thought that Rocky III was cartoonish nonsense, you ain't seen nothin' yet, for Rocky IV goes even further into the realms of the absurd, with a jingoistic, flag-waving fantasy that sees Stallone putting Mother Russia in her place, as he would also do four years later in Rambo III, where he helped the Taliban fight the evil Russian army. My, how times have changed.
This very silly film starts as it means to go on with Rocky and family presenting Paulie (Burt Young) with a very special birthday gift, a robot that wouldn't have looked out of place in an episode of Lost in Space. It really is a stupid looking thing, with an oversized head, lots of blinking diodes and an AI system that is light-years ahead of its time, but it does let the viewer know immediately that this third sequel is far from grounded in reality. Likewise, Drago is very much an OTT cartoon villain: unfeeling, almost robotic, and superhuman, punching over twice as hard as his American opponents. This fact doesn't stop Rocky from showing 'The Siberian Express' who is best, defeating the ice-cold Russian with a good old dose of US grit, determination, and, of course, the eye of the tiger!
Once again written and directed by Stallone, Rocky IV knows its audience and plays to it, with clear-cut heroes and villains, and an outcome more predictable than Jeffrey Epstein's 'suicide'. But as formulaic and stupefyingly daft as it all is, it sure is fun. Stallone has never looked better, his physique even more ripped than in part III; Lundgren is suitably emotionless; James Brown turns up to sing 'Living in America' before Apollo's Las Vegas defeat; there's not one, but two montages, the first playing like an MTV music video as Rocky is lost in his thoughts while driving, and the second being the obligatory grab-bag of training scenes (also set to a rousing rock number); and the whole thing culminates in the hard-hitting fight between East and West, not in the least bit realistic, but still exhilarating.
After the battle between the superpowers is over, Drago having been defeated in the closing seconds of the 15th round, Rocky delivers a heartwarming speech about how we should put our differences aside and learn to be friends. Just so long as America is the more powerful friend.
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