Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 9, 2023)
Lovers of kitsch will feel delighted with 1982’s Rocky III. Not only does it present one of the 1970s’ iconic characters in our titular hero, but it also marks the first appearances of two 1980s biggies: Mr. T and Hulk Hogan, two performers who would soon jettison any forms of credibility and become cartoons.
All that and one of the decade’s cheesiest songs via Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”! Historical significance becomes really all that this sequel has going for it.
Many folks seem to find Rocky III to provide one of the best of the series, but frankly, I don’t know why. I think it provides a soulless product designed to do little more than generate profits and pad writer/director/actor Sylvester Stallone’s ever-growing ego.
As Rocky III begins, we see how Rocky (Stallone) deals with the good life. His prosperity results from the boxing championship he won at the end of Rocky II, and he also continues to thrive as a fighter.
Oddly, the initial sequel also looked at Rocky’s success after the first fight seen in Rocky, but although Rocky experienced serious difficulties at that time, we find no such obstacles now. For reasons unknown, he’s much better able to handle the wealth and attention on this occasion.
In fact, Rocky seems to deal with his status too well, and he becomes soft as a fighter. Tough challenger Clubber Lang (Mr. T) confronts Rocky and gets a shot at the title, which he easily takes from the champ. After that, Rocky swirls into doubt and minor despair before he regains the “eye of the tiger” and is ready to reclaim his crown.
Yawn. I disliked the fact that the first sequel tried so hard to cast Rocky back in the underdog role, but that aspect of the third film makes it even more tiresome. And I haven’t even gotten to the fourth and fifth movies, both of which do the same damned thing!
However, this problem becomes even more dismaying in Rocky III because of Stallone. At least in Rocky II he attempted to play Rocky as the same kind of lovable lug we saw in the original.
By 1982, though, all vestiges of that character completely vanished. It seems clear that Stallone simply performed a version of himself.
The story can try to cast this Rocky as an underdog, but it can’t make us like him. I still had some affection for the character as seen in Rocky II, but Stallone’s cold and mechanical performance here keeps Rocky distant and remote.
I guess Stallone’s ego wouldn’t allow him to show the kind of emotional simplicity that made Rocky so winning in the first place. He’d much rather let us see how muscular he’d become and revel in the many slow-motion shots of himself looking hunky.
Rocky II began the process through which the supporting characters were diminished in magnitude, and Rocky III furthers it. Rocky’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire) once existed to show the soft and tender side of Rocky, whereas now she’s there just because the movie’d look weird without her.
Adrian does nothing more than cheer for Rocky on occasion and tell him how great he is. Otherwise, the character has no dimension.
Paulie (Burt Young) and Mickey (Burgess Meredith) also appear for little reason than convenience. The film barely needs them as actual characters, though they do offer some story beats.
Rocky’s old opponent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) gets a step up here, as he takes over Mickey’s role and trains Rocky for the rematch with Lang. However, I don’t think this occurs for any sort of real plot reason.
Instead, I think Stallone just wanted some photogenic shots of two muscular men as they trained together. The increase in screen time does nothing to expand upon the character of Creed, and frankly it feels more than a little odd to see the two of them become such quick pals.
Creed absolutely hated Rocky in the first sequel. This new relationship seems like nothing more than a matter of convenience.
Not all of Rocky III becomes negative. I’d forgotten how intimidating Mr. T could be back before he became a joke.
He makes Clubber seem ferocious and terrifying. In an underwritten role, T fleshes out the part well and creates a distinctive and compelling personality.
In fact, T’s so good that he aptly shows how little life Stallone brought to Rocky in this outing. While this means that I never really bought Rocky as a threat to Lang, it does make for a good climactic fight sequence.
The end-battle in Rocky II came across as too slick and clean. However, the finish to Rocky III actually appears to be rough and impassioned.
Unfortunately, it delivers the only part of Rocky III that shows any pulse. The rest of the flick is a lifeless ode to Sylvester Stallone.
Rocky used to be a warm, human character, but Stallone’s ego mangled him into a numb robotic creation with no spark or joy to be found. The same goes for most of Rocky III. It has some moments of excitement, but most of it seems like an ad for workout equipment, and it leaves me cold.