When super-fit giant Soviet boxer Ivan Drago actually kills Apollo Creed in the ring, Rocky Balboa is wracked with guilt as he should have thrown the towel in and saved his friend. To make some kind of amends, he challenges the arrogant Commie boxer to a match on his own soil.
The movie begins with footage from Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone) big fight with Clubber Lange (Laurence Tureaud a.k.a Mr. T). Then we meet Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a 193 cm (6-foot-4), 118 kilos (261-pound) Russian – in reality ‘Swedish’ – fighting machine.
Then it’s time for a quick roll call of all the regular characters who pop up in every installment. A funny-bizarre birthday party for Paulie (Burt Young), Rocky’s brother-in-law, who gets a very 80s robot for his present.
There’s the obligatory romantic scene between Rocky and his wife Adrian (Talia Shire), who seem to have lost some passion during nine years of marriage. There’s a walk-on for Rocky Jr., a couple of scenes with old pal and now retired – begging for a comeback – Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), and then it’s time for our first fight.
It`s great to see Apollo again, this time doing his ”Ali shuffle” in front of Ivan Drago. We all know the rest, after the exhibition fight in Las Vegans opens with a musical number by soul-singer James Brown – Apollo had underestimated his opponent to the degree that it will cost him his life.
The film really is a thing of its time, released in the middle of the 80s, it is through and through an ‘Us versus the Russians’ mentality. Sure, Rocky’s personal vengeance and pride are on the line, but victory in the Cold War is, too.
Drago makes more of a James Bond villain than a Rocky-style character. He’s tall, blond, stoic, and programmed to represent the Soviet state. He lets his wife (Brigitte Nielsen) do almost all of the talking on his behalf, and he and his wife do not have a single intimate scene together in the film.
The character of Ivan Drago, however, the real winner in ‘Rocky IV’. We all buy into the fact that this Soviet champion is a machine-tooled, steroid-injected fighting giant machine of major proportion. And sometimes a great antagonist is all a movie needs.
Rocky is out for revenge is after the death of Apollo. He has to get into fighting shape because to fight the boxer/possible robot, Ivan Drago.
Even though Rocky is loaded by the time Rocky IV rolls around – he owns a robot, a fancy house, cool cars – Rocky chooses to train in poverty, out of a random cabin in god-knows-where Russia. This means he has to get creative with his workouts: sawing wood (hard), carrying a four-foot log on his back through knee-deep snow (harder), and most famously, dragging a sled full of boulders and Paulie through the snow (almost definitely impossible).
The hurdles Rocky puts himself through are the most compelling facet of this montage. As a bonus, Rocky’s makeshift training in the middle of snow-blown Russia is juxtaposed with Ivan Drago’s in a technologically advanced gym to show that Rocky (and America) don’t need any stinkin’ science gadgets to win a fight.
The music featured is “There are two — Training Montage” by Vince Dicola and also “Hearts on Fire” by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band. Rocky IV is so devoted to the training montage that just when you think it’s over — when Adrian shows up — it fires right back into more training, hence the need for two songs.
Every Rocky movie has a training montage and the first three Rocky movies basically perfected the art, even so, this fourth one is probably the best in the franchise with a great addition in Sylvester Stallone’s beard.
In an article from The Hollywood Reporter celebrating the 35th anniversary of Rocky IV, they “unearthed previous interviews” of Stallone and Lundgren, where the two stars discussed the incident that led to Stallone being “in the hospital for nine days.” According to Stallone, he told Lundgren while filming the fight scene, “Just go out there and try to clock me,” explaining that, “For the first minute of the fight, it is going to be a free-for-all.” However, after receiving an uppercut from Lundgren that “caught the ribs and hit the heart against the ribcage,” Stallone was forced into the ICU. Stallone joked, stating that doctors said his injury usually happened during “head-on collisions,” and the actor replied: “Close. I did hit a bus, of sorts.” In a previous interview with Lundgren that Hollywood Reporter also highlights, the actor simply joked: “All I did was obey orders.”