- Movie Rating -

Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago (1985)

| November 30, 2021

Rocky vs Drago the changes in 30 points | Cinema

I do not arrive at Sylvester Stallone’s re-edit of Rocky IV putting my feet on unfamiliar turf.  The Rocky pictures have been part of my life since I was 7-years-old.  Like Star Wars and James Bond, I know these movies backwards and forwards and so I have always been comfortable with my assessment that this now 8-part series does sag in the middle.  Rocky IV and Rocky V are the low-points, the moment when Sly got successful, lost his heart and started chasing the money.

Money seemed to be the name of the game particularly with Rocky IV.  Stallone created the first film in 1976 with a minor budget and a small crew; by 1985, he was the biggest star in the world and the third sequel was made with a larger budget, a larger crew and a lot less heart.  Personally, I’ve always hated it despite its box office success.  The movie has no heart, no soul.  The original cut feels pressed out of a machine, which would explain the brief running time as would the laziness of the film’s endless string of montages.

Stallone, I think, realizes this.  Now in his 70s, he has a clearer mind about the wrong turn that the series took.  That’s why we got a much more sober drama like Rocky Balboa and why both of the Creed movies have moved this series back to its roots.  They’re much more about the characters than with the series’ tentpoles.

Stallone’s re-edit, titled Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago stands somewhere in the middle.  It’s not perfect – no bit of editing could ever made it so – but what you get is a much more sober drama with a lot of the silliness cut out and a much cleaner and much more focused story about two men, Rocky and Apollo, feeling the urgent need to prove themselves despite the fact that they are essentially facing a man who can fight with the power of The Terminator.  What has been cut and re-edited makes the story a little more focused and, in some cases, yields a story that better that leads to Creed II.

Most abundant is the opening, which eliminates all of Rocky’s domestic bliss in favor of a much more focused story of Apollo’s bruised ego.  The opening six minutes are largely a recap of Rocky and Apollo’s relationship from the moment that Rocky loses to Clubber Lang.  The actual beginning of this re-edit begins with Apollo in the swimming pool watching the press conference with the Russians on television.  That gets us into the story faster and in cutting a lot of the silly stuff, the narrative is much cleaner and Apollo’s ultimate fate has much more weight.

Gone completely is Pauly’s infamous robot girlfriend.  Originally, Pauly received an ambulatory robot for his birthday that he apparently figured out how to make speak with a sexy female voice.  Watch the original and you will realize exactly how much of the robot was part of this movie – it was practically a supporting player!  All of that stuff is gone and so is the birthday party.  The robot is nowhere to be seen and that means that Pauly has much less screentime.

Frankly, you don’t miss it.  What remains is narrowed down to the movie being weighted on Apollo’s ego.  He’s a man of a certain age who hasn’t stepped in the ring in five years and largely finds every excuse to be able to face Drago.  Stallone’s edits never abandon Apollo and he remains part of the story even after he is killed off.  One of the most wonderful changes is his funeral.  In the 1985 cut, Rocky stumbles through a half-assed speech about “You always did everything the way you wanted it.  I didn’t understand that, but now I understand.  I’ll never forget you, Apollo.”  It sounds like a eulogy for a co-worker that he hardly knows.  In the re-edit, the scene is much better, beginning with a nice eulogy from Duke, talking about Apollo’s warrior status, then leading into a much more emotional speech by Rocky about how his success wouldn’t be possible without Apollo before he breaks down.

Those are the best moments.  Unfortunately, no amount of editing can make this a total success.  The montages remain, especially that one where Rocky feels so awful about Apollo that he has tr drive around in his expensive new Ferrari.  We all mourn in our own way, I suppose.

Plus, I have always disliked the fight between Rocky and Drago.  It begins with a narrative touch, much like the first fight between Rocky and Apollo, but then Stallone launches into a silly montage to get us through rounds 4 through 14.  Why?  Why not just wrap things up in 5 rounds?  The push through the middle rounds feels like Stallone didn’t have the confidence in the audience to be able to sit through a full fight or that he didn’t have the confidence to use cinematic shorthand to get the point across without yet another montage.

The re-edit changes one thing that I found rather curious.  In the 1985 cut, the Soviet Premiere inexplicably started clapping after Rocky’s ending speech, signifying that perhaps Rocky single-handedly ended The Cold War.  Here, the Premiere stands up very stone-faced and walks out, perhaps indicating that Rocky has just escalated tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  Perhaps, it can be a forward trajectory to what happens in Creed II, but it was a question that lingered with me.

As with Francis Ford Coppola’s re-edit of The Godfather Part III, we are dealing with a director who is basically trying to give dignity to damaged goods.  I accept the changes in Stallone’s film much more easily than I did in Coppola’s because Godfather III had structural problems that no editing could fix.  Rocky IV just needed some trimming to cut out the silly bits and bring forward that more serious stuff.  I liked this edit.  I liked this version of the film.  It will never be perfect, but I thank Stallone for coming to his senses.  It’s a better film.  Not great, but better.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1985) View IMDB Filed in: Drama