The Pitch: In 1985, Rocky IV was released to box office success (netting $300 million, the most the series has ever earned), but critical derision. It’s no surprise, either; the film, which tracks Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as he seeks revenge against Russian superman Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) for the death of his friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), was the ultimate jump-the-shark moment for a series that had heretofore mixed taut boxing action with comparatively tamped-down character drama.
It’s a thorn that’s clearly been stuck in Stallone’s paw for 35 years, and with the creative idleness that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 seemed as good a time as any to pick it back up and revisit it. And so, we have Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago – The Director’s Cut, a drastically revamped and polished take that seeks to bring the over-the-top Cold War cartoon down to the leaner levels of the first three pictures.
In doing so, Stallone certainly crafts a slightly more cohesive motion picture than its original cut, one that takes its characters (even Lundgren’s nearly-wordless villain) more seriously. But at the same time, he smooths out all of the film’s jagged edges, leaving something that feels both out of time and insufficient to cover up its structural deficiencies.