When I learned a few months ago that Sylvester Stallone was planning to release a director’s cut of Rocky IV, I was ecstatic. I’ve been a huge fan of the film since childhood and once made the case that it was the greatest Cold War movie of all time, as the Italian Stallion — relying on his faith, family, and individual will — wins by adopting a policy of peace through strength in his epic battle against the state-engineered Soviet giant Ivan Drago. I attended last night’s one-night-only screening so I wouldn’t have to wait until today’s on demand release. Having seen it, I would say this: If somebody had never seen Rocky IV before, I would recommend the original theatrical release. But if you’re somebody who has already seen the original many times, the new version is a fun companion to it.
While it’s billed as Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago and described as the Ultimate Director’s Cut, with 40 minutes of new footage, that’s slightly a misnomer. It’s not as if Stallone just took the original 90-minute movie, added a bunch of scenes, and turned it into an over two-hour movie. The movie actually remains about the same length. In reality, it’s more of a recut. Sure, there are lots of new scenes. But also, a lot of original scenes are cut out. For instance, the kitschy robot is entirely missing from the new version and Rocky’s kid barely appears. The role of Drago’s wife, played by Stallone’s ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen, is significantly reduced. We get a new scene in which Apollo Creed expresses his anger at Drago’s appearance in the U.S. as an exercise in “Russian propaganda,” but we lose the locker-room scene with Apollo before his fatal fight with Drago. Also, the film has an alternate version of Apollo’s funeral scene, with Rocky giving a different eulogy.
At times, the cuts that are made are kind of arbitrary and choppy, and leave out key details. There’s one iconic scene where Drago punches an electronic punch pressure monitor and a Russian official declares, “Whatever he hits, he destroys.” In the original version, the official says, “A normal heavyweight averages 700 pounds of pressure per square inch. As you can see, Drago averages 1,850 pounds.” But the new version clips the part about the punching power of a normal heavyweight, depriving the “1,850 pounds” metric of all context and thus severely undermining the dramatic effect.
Taking everything together, the newly cut version appears to be an attempt by Stallone to reduce some of the 1980s cheesiness and music-video vibe and make the movie a bit more of a drama. It leans more heavily on Apollo’s motivation for fighting Drago, and probes a bit deeper into why Rocky felt so much personal guilt for Apollo’s death. This was a major theme of the more recent film Creed 2, in which Apollo’s son fights Drago’s son, and so in some sense the recut version of Rocky IV felt like an attempt to retroactively make it pair more directly as a prequel.
The bottom line is that if you are a fan of the original movie you’ll likely get a kick out of watching this. But it shouldn’t replace the original, with all its 80s charm.