For the previous review on Rocky IV, please click here – please click here.
For the previous review on Rocky V, please click here – please click here.
Rocky III is a film that centers on a line between cheesiness and emotional impact. You have the emotional qualities of the first two films, but you also have an idea of what’s to come. Depending on which side of the line you view the film, the movie is either in the upper echelon of the Rocky series or the bottom. But like the other films, I’m going to try to dissect it piece by piece.
Many of the stars of the first two films return here, including Sylvester Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, and Burt Young. But also returning are Carl Weathers and Tony Burton and how they fit in to the story arc here is interesting, not as the opposition, but as friend and mentor.
One of the early scenes boasts a boxer vs. wrestler match with Rocky (Stallone) fighting for a cause against Thunderlips (played by future WWE Champion, Hulk Hogan). The scene provides a small insight into the relationship between Mickey and Rocky with a comical banter among them. And I suppose that was the reason for the scene in the film…otherwise, the scene is quite unnecessary. Although in the long run, this scene is key in the life and career of Hogan’s trajectory as he soon gets signed to WWE, wins a championship, becomes a key piece in Wrestlemanias I through IX and pretty much changes professional wrestling forever. So I suppose this scene changes the life of one man forever.
The next part introduces the most ferocious opponent to date. His name is Clubber Lang and he is played by the then-unknown Mr. T. Again, this is one of those parts that opens up a whole new trajectory for the actor as he becomes very well known after this part, including a popular stint on “The A-Team”. So, if anything, this film is a life changer for some. He’s different from Apollo (Weathers), though. He’s serious, more focused, and apparently he pities Rocky. But he also puts a fear in Rocky’s manager, Mickey (Meredith) and that fear is what brings about Mickey’s nonchalant attitude toward picking Rocky’s opponents instead of having him fight Lang. And Clubber feels it, too as he decides to come forth at Rocky’s retirement announcement in front of the unveiling of the most famous statue in the city of Philadelphia. The scene does what it’s supposed to…it makes the audience realize that this new opponent isn’t going to be an easy fight for Rocky and because of his insulting attitude towards Adrian (Shire), it’s also become personal.
There’s some great acting in the beginning scenes of the film: Paulie’s (Young) jealousy towards his brother-in-law, Mickey and Rocky’s contentious relationship, and of course Lang and the World. These emotions of frustration and built up angst is what builds towards the ending climax. In the first film, it’s a fear of failure…in the second film, it’s the fear of losing Adrian…here, it’s a mix of all those feelings and then some.
In what becomes the first major death of the series, Mickey dies during a match between Rocky and Clubber. Rocky loses his mentor and his friend, which leads to the unknown. The death scene itself was an emotional scene, although it may have been even more emotional if we knew what in the world Rocky actually says as he is blubbering over his trainer. (To this day, I still wonder…).
Luckily, enter Apollo Creed – who, despite the fact that he couldn’t go toe to toe with Rocky, has the ability to help him beat Lang. How? By bringing him to his neck of the woods. And after some cringeworthy scenes in where we think Paulie may be racist, in addition to being a recovering alcoholic, we have Rocky training to, of course, “Eye of the Tiger” and making Survivor the “pick-me-up” band of the 80s.
Of course, we have to have the obligatory scene between Adrian and Rocky where only she can motivate him to fight his best. And after Rocky admits to Adrian that he’s afraid, Adrian tells him to pretty much suck it up and get going….because we’ve only got five more sequels and counting to go. From here on out, we have the training sequences, the music, the screaming and everything else that goes on with every other Rocky film to date.
This leads to the fight of the century…after the rematch of the century…which came after the first fight of the century. But here it is…Clubber Lang and Rocky Balboa in a match much shorter than the first two. We don’t have a final decision here and we don’t have two boxers toppling over one another. What we do have is a fresh knock out to send Clubber Lang from the fearsome opponent to an after-thought. If you think I thought this match should have gone a little longer, you’re right. I didn’t care too much about the knockout…but I thought it was silly that a wife’s coaxing hand all of a sudden turned Rocky into an invincible beast.
Overall, the film was an improvement on what was to come in the next two films with a much more emotional punch to the gut, but the ending took it away somewhat.
FINAL GRADE: B-
What are your thoughts on Rocky III? Did it provide the emotional punch that it intended to? Or a better question…does anyone, to this day, understand what Rocky’s final words to Mickey are? Let me know with a comment and I will see you next week with a review on Rocky II.