The character of Rocky developed from gritty 1970s exploitation underdog fighter to 1980s muscle-bound superman fighter between Rocky II and Rocky III. This coincided with the rise of the action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Sylvester Stallone himself looked almost unrecognisable from the second film to the third, as age and a lot of ˜training’ clearly changed his entire body shape. Yet Rocky III still attempts to turn the reigning champion back into the underdog. Sadly they never manage to achieve this effect in the same way they did with Rocky II.
Reigning World Boxing Champion Rocky Balboa (Stallone) has been undefeated for 6 consecutive fights including an exhibition against a professional wrestler called Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan). Upon receiving a statue in his honour he is challenged by a hungry young fighter called Clubber Lang (Mr. T) who calls Rocky a coward for ducking his claims to a title shot. Agreeing to fight Clubber any time and any place, he is told by his long-time manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith) that he cannot beat Lang because he’s become lazy and soft. Rocky must overcome this dangerous new challenger to establish himself as one of the greatest fighters of all time.
The personal lose is greater in Rocky III than in past instalments, but it strangely has less emotional impact. Perhaps because his story had been completed in the first two films, leaving little left to be achieved. The sad events in the first third feel rather like desperation and heavy-handed manipulation (a feat repeated in Rocky IV). The challenger too lacks the intrigue of Apollo Creed and while Mr. T gives it his best shot If you’re gonna jump, jump! Come on Creed! he is never wholly convincing as the indestructible opposition.
Despite these flaws along with the continued reduction in Adrian’s role, Rocky III still has some great individual moments, including the fight scenes. They continue to lack technical grace or authenticity, but they are cinematically engaging and prove the highlights of the film. The growing relationship between Rocky and Creed also allows for some wonderful moments of chemistry, most notably the final scenes ding, ding! While the music continues to deliver with Rocky III surprisingly being the first film to include the now iconic Rocky tune ˜Eye of the Tiger.’
Sadly there is not nearly enough meat left on Rocky’s ever-decreasing carcass of emotional drama. Rocky III really begins the decline of the series into clichÃ©d nonsense, but there is still just enough here to make it worth seeing.