To give Sylvester Stallone credit, he’s done an exceptional job in milking the Rocky franchise out of its one-trick pony story idea. The first Rocky was a landmark, inspirational and memorable film. Rocky II was not really necessary (although to be fair, without that film we couldn’t have this instalment). And now, with “Rocky III”, we actually get an injection of new ideas in to the franchise, but it does come at the expense of big spectacle and a tendency to lose its realism. Stallone returns to the director’s chair and offers a stronger lead this time around, infusing the film with the theme of, if you get to the top, what happens when you stumble off your perch? It’s an idea that makes the Rocky series relevant again, and manages to give Rocky’s quest new meaning as he once again becomes the underdog, even though he’s the heavyweight champion of the world. “Rocky III” is great fun, it’s moving and does have some new messages; but it doesn’t recapture the realism of the first film (or even the second film) and has a tendency to be over the top.
This film starts with a recap of the fight from “Rocky II”, leading in to a montage of wins by Rocky as the new heavyweight champion, set to the stirring song, ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Rocky is on top of the world, but on the sidelines, a new contender is watching, and moving up the ranks, Clubber Lang (a sensationally wooden but amusing performance by Mr. T). Mickey (Burgess Meredith) is wary that Clubber will beat Rocky to a pulp, but Rocky, feels he’s just another fighter. Rocky decides to fight Clubber, and ultimately loses the match. At the same time, Mickey dies, leaving Rocky in a lonely, desolate and hurting place. Emerging from the darkness is Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) who offers to train Rocky to get his title back, and in the process defeating a fighter who is bringing the sport in to disrepute, and in attempt to win back the title together. The fanfares start, Rocky starts lifting weights, and before you now it, Rocky’s back in the ring and this time he proves he is the champion of the world.
Where “Rocky III” delivers is in the notion of falling from success. Rocky gets used to the rich lifestyle, becoming comfortable for the first time in his life, but an unfortunate side effect is that he loses his edge as a fighter, which is humiliatingly represented in his defeat by Clubber Lang. No matter how high you get, there’s always someone or something that will attempt to knock you down. This notion serves the Rocky character brilliantly in that we get to the core of what the character is about but from a different angle; he’s out to climb a mountain and get to the top and nothing is going to stop him. By being knocked off the top, Rocky has a new mountain to climb and thus the journey present in this film is fresh, uplifting and moving once again. Stallone doesn’t pull any punches (excuse the pun), deciding to kill off Mickey to drive Rocky’s dramatic downturn, and even throws in the twist of bringing in Apollo as a friend rather than an enemy (which works extraordinarily well). Even Talia Shire as Adrian gets to have some more pivotal moments, particularly when she’s arguing with Rocky on the beach about self-respect and the meaning of moving forward.
This film does have its weaknesses; it does have a more cartoon atmosphere in a sense, and as represented in the character of Clubber Lang. He’s hilarious and has some great one-liners but as he’s played by Mr. T, he just doesn’t have any weight or depth to him at all. This is a shame because the Rocky series has always been grounded in strong characters, but this is the first time we get a two-dimensional cartoon villain. Even Apollo held his own. And although the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ song fits well for Rocky, it lends a sort of music video style to the proceedings (which become overblown in Rocky IV). Also, given how tough Clubber Lang is supposed to be, it’s a bit of an anti-climax when he goes down in three rounds in the final fight.
“Rocky III” is a return to form; it might not recapture the elements that made the first film so great but it’s a vast improvement over its unoriginal predecessor and does manage to take the Rocky character in to new directions and heights.
For the complete, original DVD review, click this link: http://www.allaboutmovies.net/dvdreviewrocky3.htm
Alex DeMattia is the lead DVD reviewer at the film/DVD review web site All About Movies.net. He also contributes reviews and articles for the Digicosm Film Blog: http://www.filmannex.com/Digicosm