“Everybody can change.”
Rocky IV, the cult classic sports film from 1985, celebrates its 35th anniversary this Thanksgiving weekend.
The film, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, also sees the return of Stallone in the title role as he is joined by Dolph Lundgren, Carl Weathers, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brigitte Nielsen, Michael Pataki, and Tony Burton.
Rocky IV picks up after its iconic and successful predecessor, Rocky III. That film saw Rocky Balboa take on a powerhouse of a boxer in Clubber Lang (Mr T.) with the help of a new trainer and former foe, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). That movie is also responsible for the massive success of the song, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor.
A popular critique of Rocky III, though, is that it became more of a blockbuster or “popcorn flick” style of film and lost some of the down-to-Earth quality storytelling that made the first two films so captivating outside of the training and fight sequences.
What Rocky IV did was up the stakes to an astronomical level. The training and fighting sequences are longer and likely to get the viewer’s blood pumping. The spectacle of entertainment value goes from Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) in Rocky III to James Brown’s wild musical number, “Living in America” in Rocky IV.
The biggest change, though, was to base the film’s theme on real-world events at the time.
Back in the mid-to-late 1980s, the world was in the midst of the Cold War and on the brink of nuclear war. Rocky IV was not the only film to tackle that subject matter, but did so in a much better way than most other films, like Superman IV. Every scene in the film revolves around the idea of East vs. West and the concept of age-old ideologies confronting the challenges of the modern-day. The performances from the actors, such as Carl Weathers (whom I believe should have won an Academy Award for Rocky II) and Talia Shire, are compelling. When you combine that with excellent writing and direction from Stallone, it makes for a heartfelt storyline around all the fun and adrenaline-inducing action scenes.
What makes this film interesting today is the relevance to our current political environment. Our world – or more specifically, the U.S.A. – is in a state of trying to come together and unite despite heated opposition from political parties to countries and pandemics as a whole. However, we have never been more connected globally due to technology, which is something the film also touches on with Rocky going to Moscow to fight the literal embodiment of Soviet power, yet finds a way through the will of the heart to win over an entire country.
You could also argue that point with the reference to Pauly’s robot.
Speaking of Pauly’s robot, it was announced earlier this year that Stallone and MGM Studios will release a new director’s cut soon to celebrate the film’s 35th anniversary. An official release date has yet to be announced. When asked by a fan why he wanted to return to re-edit the movie, he said he “always had a gut feeling that [he] could’ve gone deeper and better. And [he] was right.” Stallone has also described his version of the film as “soulful.”
One major change Stallone has made is to cut the footage of Pauly’s robot. Many fans had differing reactions to the news, but Stallone is sticking with the decision: “The robot is going to the junkyard forever, no more robot.” Stallone has also shared Instagram videos of alternate and never-before-seen footage that he will be incorporating into the new cut of the film. One noticeable absence from the theatrical cut is the main theme song. I wonder if the iconic Bill Conti theme will make its way into the new cut.
It is also worth mentioning that the film could have also received a boost in recent popularity due to Creed 2, which sees the return of Ivan Drago and the introduction of his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu).
It should be interesting to see how different Stallone’s version of the film will be from the theatrical version. For those that are concerned about a different version of a classic film potentially cutting footage from the film, I say this: nobody is taking away the theatrical version if that is the version you prefer to watch. In fact, the new cut of the film could bring in a new audience to re-watch the original version of Rocky IV to see the differences. It is a win-win for everyone.
Rocky IV has been a fan favorite sports film and has retained relevance for decades. It might not be a perfect film due to some “‘80s-isms,” but it will forever be a staple among my favorite sports films.
Stay tuned to find out the release date of the new director’s cut of the film and which format you can find it on. Until then, just keep punching.
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