“Stallone has given us a more emotional and fleshed out journey but it proves to be inferior to the original version”
Back in 1985, the world was given ‘Rocky IV.’ The critics hated it. The fans loved it. It became the highest-grossing of the franchise. And continues to be an enjoyable installment of the saga. But Sylvester Stallone wasn’t happy with the final result. Thankfully, MGM decided to let him take the film and re-cut it. Out were several scenes including all those of the robot. In comes some more emotional and fleshed-out scenes that add quite a lot. But is this new version ‘Rocky IV: Rocky VS Drago’ any better than the original version? Sadly, the answer is a no.
ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS DRAGO
The film starts differently. It now starts with the first fight between Rocky and Clubber Lang from ‘Rocky III’. And continues on with ten minutes of the third film before we reach the opening title. This new version relegates the credits until the end of the film and only displays the title in the same style as the previous entries. However, an unused song from the original soundtrack plays over this. This gives the film an unmoving start, one which doesn’t endear the film from the off. We now focus straight away with Apollo Creed, in his swimming pool with his dogs. The sequence is extended slightly while removing several seconds from the press conference announcing Drago’s arrival to the boxing world.
BIG FIGHT BUILD UP AND CREED’S DEATH
The build-up to the fight is completely different this time around. Several conversations between Rocky and Apollo have been shortened while several new scenes and conversations take place. But we know what is coming. The showcase to the exhibition match has been altered significantly. And Drago himself is shown to be completely amazed and somewhat disgusted with the spectacle. But he is shown to be more human than we have seen before. Several new shots appear in place of others. And Creed’s discussion in the ring with Rocky before the fight is different. Now, we can see Rocky’s opposition to Creed taking part in the fight in more clarity.
Of course, we know the outcome. And even Stallone now has expressed his knowledge that he made a mistake in killing off Apollo. The fight itself is now even more brutal than before. Creed takes a hell of a beating. But he still refuses to let Rocky stop the fight. But the scene where Rocky is about to throw in the towel, to which Apollo tells him not to has gone. The aftermath is extended, showing the shock of what has happened to the full. But several bits of conversation has been removed. Now Drago comes across as unemotional and robotic. He goes from being an athlete to a machine. And it is completely at odds with what we saw not five minutes earlier.
CREED’S FUNERAL, AND ROCKY’S DECISION
Creed’s funeral is now totally different. And it shows. It is better than it was before. Now, Tony reads a eulogy to his friend before Rocky gives a heartfelt and tearful tribute to Creed. The scene now packs a highly emotional punch, much better than the original version. We also now get a scene shown in the 1985 trailer that was omitted from the original release. Rocky asks for a match against Drago to be sanctioned, which is refused. This leads to Rocky vacating the title in order to take on the Russian. The press conference sequence has now been altered and extended. Drago is now given a more fleshed-out role here. And it makes the sequence better. The music video car scene remains intact though, once again taking us out from the film and ruining the balance.
TRAINING IN RUSSIA
The arrival in Russia has been altered and several key things have changed. We still get the KGB and the minders as expected. But now, they come across as more human than before. Some of Pauley’s exposition has been excised, giving the sequence a tighter feel. Tony’s chess match against a minder now has a more friendly feel to it. Now, the minder actually smiles and appears to be enjoying his time with the Americans. Tony’s discussion with Rocky upstairs in the cabin has been altered. It gives more emotion to the scene without bettering it. Rocky’s training sequences have been changed, some for the better, some not so much.
The combination sequence of Rocky and Drago’s training sessions has been changed too. But a big change earlier in the film makes a certain shot that still remains feel jarring. The question from Drago’s arrival press conference referencing performance-enhancing injections has been removed. But the shot of Drago receiving an injection remains. It comes across as sinister and un-needed now instead of confirming the Russian has been medically enhanced. But, of course, we still get Rocky’s sprint away from the KGB minders and up the mountain to Vince DiCola’s score. And we still want to cheer as Rocky reaches the summit.
THE FIGHT AND AFTERMATH
The fight itself is now extended and more brutal than before. And it does make the film better. We already know the outcome but getting there is even more exciting than before. Drago does come across as more human than we have ever seen him before. And to top it off, the aftermath has been altered. Rocky’s speech has been changed, his celebrations after his win are different. And Rocky and Drago now acknowledge each other as Rocky leaves the ring with grudging respect. Eye Of The Tiger now plays the film out as we watch the end credits.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the film and found this Director’s Cut to be enjoyable. However, where Stallone has improved things in a lot of ways, his removal of some vital scenes and dialogue gives the film a disjointed feel. Rocky Jr. hardly appears apart from a few shots. Rocky’s advice to Creed in his dressing room before the fight is gone. Even Rocky’s first appearance feels wrong. If you viewed the film in thirds, the second is good, despite the car scene, which I’ve never liked and should have been removed. It doesn’t add anything, just takes the viewer out of the film. The final third is much better, and the best third of the film. The first third though, despite some really good tweaks, is now much weaker than before. And gives the film a very uneven start that it doesn’t quite recover from.
If Sylvester Stallone had made the film even longer than it is (94 minutes) and left some exposition in, the film would be much better. The changes to the last two-thirds bring more to the table and drag the film up a fair way. But the opening third lets it down in a big way. It feels too rushed. Add in the removal of part of DiCola’s score, replaced by parts of Bill Conti’s and it feels like a mismatch. And that, above all, makes the film an enjoyable, thrilling ride. But one that is sadly, thanks to the opening third, inferior to the original version.
‘Rocky IV: Rocky VS Drago’ is available to buy on digital right now.
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Carl Roberts is the News Editor of The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!