Rocky III (1982) / Drama-Action
MPAA Rated: PG for some language
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers, Mr. T, Talia Shire, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Hulk Hogan, Tony Burton, Frank Stallone
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone
With Rocky III, director-screenwriter-star Stallone (Death Race 2000, First Blood) takes the film series into a new direction, although the underdog formula still stays intact. Stallone realizes that it's hard to be the underdog when you're the champion, so to knock Rocky down a few notches, he creates the most terrifying challenger he never faced, the bruising #1 contender, Clubber Lang (Mr. T, DC Cab). Lang has been stalking the ready-to-retire Balboa, showing up at every match and public appearance, egging the champ on to stop dodging him and fight him in the ring. Rocky is ready to take him up on the challenge, but his manager Mickey (Meredith, Clash of the Titans) reveals that he has been protecting him since he's gotten the title belt, only challenging chumps Rocky could easily beat. Undeterred, Rocky still goes ahead with the match, losing the title and his manager in the process. Can Rocky face retiring as a loser, or will he rise to the most difficult challenge he's faced yet with a rematch?
While certainly entertaining, Rocky III can be seen as the film in the series that finally lost the heart, soul, and focus of the first entry, the Best Picture Oscar-winner, Rocky. In their place is a mostly commercial vehicle using the same characters, given a simplistic revenge plot that is rare to find outside of a WWF (now WWE) arena. Fittingly, future WWF champion Hulk Hogan (Santa with Muscles, Mr. Nanny) makes an appearance here as Thunderlips, basically a harbinger of things to come for the series, as Rocky goes from fighter to, very literally, pro wrestling figure within a matter of minutes. Hogan might exit the film, but the bombastic spirit still stays the same, as Mr. T and Balboa face off in one of those good vs. evil showdowns that creates more of a spectacle than it is respectable.
During the intervening years between Rocky II and Rocky III, Stallone would slim down his body, while bulking up his muscles to become a lean, mean fighting machine. Just as he worked on his body to reduce the fat and to gain strength, Stallone also applied this philosophy to his movie. Rocky III is a lean film, twenty minutes shorter than its predecessors, while it is also beefed up with action and confrontations. Character progression is kept on very simple terms, with Adrian showing some additional spunk, Rocky showing fear, and Apollo (Weahers, Semi-Tough) showing he had the character and intelligence to be a true champion after all. The rest is all machismo and braggadocio, as Clubber Lang has, literally, no past or character development other than his insatiable need to prove to the world he can't be beat. It's the first time that a true villain has been introduced into the series, possessing no redeeming features whatsoever.
Despite its simplicity and lack of genuine drama, Rocky III is still delivers excitement and interest in the Rocky Balboa story. It's slick, polished, and easy to watch and be engaged by, such that some viewers that wanted more boxing action and less sappy romance will probably consider it the most entertaining entry in the series. Just as Rocky has to squeeze out all of the elements that make him too soft to face pure evil like Lang, nearly all traces of gentleness and humanity are excised from the Rocky saga in favor of proving who is the biggest and baddest hombre in the world. Whereas Rocky's pugilists were defined by the size of the hearts that beat within each fighter's chest, Rocky III is measured by how hard the fighters externally beat their own chests with their fists.
-- Followed by Rocky IV, Rocky V, and Rocky Balboa.
©2006 Vince Leo