Find the latest breaking news and information on the top stories, science, business, entertainment, politics, and more.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky IV re-cut shows his passion for the franchise

This look at the director’s cut of Sylvester Stallone Rock VI was originally published in 2021, when the new edit was released. It has been updated and republished in conjunction with the new interest in the Rocky series – and in particular Stallone’s place in it – after Creed III.

There is nothing inherently wrong with it Rocky IVa film of ultra-commercialized beauty from the 1980s. Sylvester Stallone cleverly played on the anti-Russian swagger of Rambo: First Blood Part II to bring Western audiences a crowd-pleasing Cold War underdog story. The Enemy: Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the pulverising, combative savior of the Soviet Union. “Whatever he hits, he destroys,” boasts Drago’s ashtray voice attendant. When the Russian kills Rocky’s former opponent-turned-best friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in an exhibition game, it’s clear he’s got an all-American knuckle dinner coming up, and Stallone serves it up with much of the MTV flash that was fashionable at the time.

Rocky IV is an important film of its time. Nine movies in the franchise, it is still the top-grossing entry of the plot. It’s nobody’s favorite Rocky movie, but nobody in the history of the world has ever gone to see it and turned it off. This is a scientifically proven fact. And it is a universally acknowledged truth that no person on the planet has ever wanted a director’s cut.

Except Stallone.

Considering the remarkably slim 91-minute story, Rocky IV is more training editing than film. So when Stallone announced his plan for an extended director’s cut, the idea sounded like grist to an SNL Digital Short. But the actor-director was deadly serious, and now he is Rocky IV. This once gaudy touchstone of 1980s cinema has been transformed into a strangely stark musing on the warrior’s code. Visually and tonally, it’s a radically different experience. And let’s get this straight: those “42 minutes of new footage” promised in the press announcement are here, but at 93 minutes (with credits) it also means a third of the film’s mainstay since the film’s inception Glasnost era is over. This isn’t your bearded Gen X uncle’s Rocky IV.

Image: MGM Photos

The original Rocky made Stallone a global superstar. It won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Picture Network, All the President’s men, And Cab driver. The sequels were all snapshots of Stallone’s career at the time they were made: Rock II is about an overnight success struggling with the demands of sudden fame; Rock III suffers the loss of hunger that strikes champions/stars at the top of their game; Rocky V charts the champion’s inevitable decline; Rocky Balboa refutes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s claim that there are no second acts in American life; and the Belief trilogy is about the importance of legacy. But Rocky IV is actually about nothing.

Apollo and Rocky stare at their approaching retirement, but the former’s suggested fear that Russia is taking over the boxing world with lab-created superhumans is met with any sort of meaningful introspection. There’s a touch of John Henry folk legend to it, but at its core it’s a revenge movie, leavened by a sweet-and-sour lip service about Americans and Russians learning to see each other as fellow human beings (where the entire politburo stands up and applauds the film’s conclusion).

So is Stallone’s reworked version, Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago, improvement? In some cases absolutely. As pictured in a re-making documentary available on YouTube, Stallone is baffled by the number of badly missed punches that made it to the 1985 theatrical release. He’s proud of the brutality of the last fight (as he should be, considering that a series of Lundgren punches to his chest left him with a swollen heart that landed him in the ICU), but in the bloated HD world today, which occasional touches are obvious. In the recut, almost every punch lands with a realistic thud, though some of the absurdly jacked-up sound design is actually toned down.

Stallone has also gone back and inserted numerous alternate takes that completely change the tragic arc of Apollo Creed. Taking on Drago is no longer an act of stupid hubris but an obligation, made clear in Duke’s eulogy, where Creed’s trainer and default father eloquently defends his fighter’s fatal decision: “The warrior has a right to choose his way of life and his way of dying.”

This mirrors a newly added moment in Creed’s fight with Drago, where Rocky begs his friend, “Don’t do this to me.” “I’m doing this for myself,” snaps Apollo. This gives Rocky’s inevitable fight with Drago a deeper purpose than revenge; he too obeys the warrior’s code, not caring if everyone, even his loving wife Adrian (Talia Shire), believes it to be an act of suicide.

Rocky holds a dying Apollo Creed in his arms after a boxing match

Image: MGM

How this matches Drago’s reconfigured arc is tricky. In the theatrical cut, Drago’s belated rebellion against his handlers felt like the act of a petulant child. (“I fight for me!”) In this version, Drago is portrayed as a bumbling willing participant in Russian propaganda. He tries to answer questions at the press conference, but is soon interrupted by his chat box manager. There’s a human under the robot facade, and thanks Creed IIwe know what his resistance will ultimately cost him.

Sadly, Stallone has eliminated Brigitte Nielsen’s outraged outburst, where her sincere-sounding claims of death threats against her husband are laughed off by the media. There may be a slightly more human dimension to Drago in the director’s cut (his baffled perspective during James Brown’s performance of “Living in America” ​​makes him feel like a 5-year-old kid lost in a carnival funhouse), but Nielsen’s apparatchik has been reduced to a cold caricature. This feels like an unfair trade-off.

What Stallone can’t completely banish is the essential silliness of a film shot and edited to appeal to music video mad viewers. He convincingly defends the power of editing in the documentary, and he hasn’t played with those sequences too much in this version. (The biggest change is to give the flashbacks in the “No Easy Way Out” sequence a sepia tone.) He’s beating himself up for leaving out the meatiest elements of the drama, but the scenes he does in this edit lets breathe are completely at odds with the adrenaline pumping aesthetic of the film he made.

He’s wiped out the comic book vibrancy from Bill Butler’s cinematography, which only makes this outsized entertainment film dead inside. And most controversial of all, he removed all traces of Paulie’s robot, Sico. In doing so, he’s reduced Burt Young’s performance to next to nothing, diluting the impact of Paulie’s goofy touching outburst of gratitude to Rocky prior to the fight. (“If I could just unpack myself and step out and be someone else, I’d want to be you”) Paulie is an integral part of the Balboa saga, and he deserves better.

Stallone’s passion for the character of Drago is contagious, and watching him meticulously refine 35-year-old scenes in a Sunset Strip editing suite is an unexpected thrill. The warrior spirit is alive and well in the 76-year-old author. Stallone was left out Creed IIIand he’s been removed from the franchise since he no longer owns the rights. But he still feels a strong sense of ownership over the story and his legacy. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s still invested in how people see these films, and what they see when they watch them again decades after their release.

Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago is for rent or for sale Amazon, Vuduand other digital platforms.