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Rocky IV
Despite some self-indulgent direction, Sylvester Stallone proved there was still mileage in his most famous franchise with 1985's Rocky IV, an emotionally charged story that is the strongest film in the franchise since the first one, due to a manipulative, crowd-pleasing story and an opponent for Rocky that made Clubber Lang look like a florist.

Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is feeling like yesterday's news when he learns of the arrival of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a boxing killing machine, to the states and decides to challenge the gigantic Russian to an exhibition match. And even with Rocky in his corner, the match goes tragically wrong and Rocky feels he has no option but to give up his title and challenge the Russian giant in order to avenge his friend Apollo. The only thing is Drago's wife (Brigitte Nielsen) fears for his safety if he stays in the US and only agrees to the match with Rocky on the condition that it happens in the USSR.

Stallone does an admirable job of telling a new story with these characters we've come to love with only a brief detour into laziness when, after the death of Apollo, we are treated to almost ten minutes of clips from the previous three films, documenting everything that happened in those films, right up to Apollo's final fall to the canvas. It's understandable that Rocky's grief would ignite a flashback of their relationship but this one goes on WAY too long to the point where the film almost loses me. Ironically, these scenes actually lead to my favorite part of the film.

I've always loved the training sequences in these films and the sequences were beautifully mounted here, with a strong assist from film editors John W. Wheeler and Don Zimmerman as we got a side by side look at both Rocky and Drago's training regimens. Stallone's story must also be applauded for the human qualities he attempts to bring to the character of Ivan Drago...if you watch this character in his opening scenes being introduced to the press, he appears to be a "product" manufactured for international consumption and that Drago is not a willing participant in this creative process. Even though this character is clearly the villain of the piece, Stallone attempts to evoke sympathy with the character and succeeds somewhat. I also love when Rocky is introduced at the climactic match and he is greeted with boos and whistles, something we Rocky fans just aren't used to, an unsettling but effective piece of storytelling.

Stallone's prove track record with the previous three films is indicated with the seemingly unlimited budget he has been given for this one...there's money everywhere here, though I did miss Bill Conti's music. There is a cameo by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown performing his hit "Living in America." Stallone and his cast deliver the goods, though personally, Burt Young's Paulie becomes beyond annoying here, but not enough to detract from Stallone's ability to prove that this movie character still had box office appeal.