The plot outline for this latest instalment in the Rocky franchise comes from the film’s novelization-
‘Three years have passed since Rocky fought Apollo Creed, years of enjoying easy fights and a happy home life with Adrian.
But now a vicious, young fighter named Clubber Lang, jealous of Rocky’s success has challenged him to a bout.
Can our out-of-shape hero beat this young upstart? Rocky’s got the guts, the heart, and the courage. And if that’s not enough, he’s getting help – from none other than Apollo Creed himself!
Rocky III, the legend continues…’
I love the third instalments of franchises. I remember the trend in cinemas when I was growing up of the triple-bill. It was like the ultimate reward for fans of franchises that had made it to a third film. Star Wars, The Omen and Rocky all had triple bills. All of those glorious hours in the cinema.
Third instalments of franchises in the 80s also seemed to involve the filmmaker incorporating other pop culture into their films to show they have their fingers on the pulse. Superman III had Atari, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors weaved in some Dungeons and Dragons into its storyline, Friday the 13th Part 3 utilised 3D as its gimmick. And what does Rocky III use? Wrestling! Too cool. The sequence in which Rocky takes on wrestler Thunderlips (whoever came up with that name is a genius. I instantly thought of L7’s cameo in John Waters’ Serial Mom in which they were called Camel Lips) played by wrestling legend Hulk Hogan is one of the most mental sequences I’ve ever seen. I loved it. I also love the idea of snooty film critics such as Pauline Kael, Janet Maslin and Siskel and Ebert having to watch something as ‘low-brow’ (i.e. popular) as a wrestling bout.
The casting of a then unknown Mr T as Clubber Lang was also a stroke of genius. I love that the film’s casting agents even visited some of the worst prisons in America in their search for an intimidating enough opponent for Balboa in this instalment before coming across the future A-Team star. Mr T gives a great performance and has some amazing one-liners. When asks what his prediction is for his fight with Balboa, he replies ‘PAIN!’
Of course, tragedy has to strike within a Rocky sequel. This time it’s the turn of Mickey, Rocky’s trainer who goes to the great gym in the sky. Burgess Meredith’s performance in all of the first three Rocky films was amazing, especially when you see him in other movies and TV series. I watched Magic recently and his turn as the wealthy movie agent Ben Greene was amazing and completely different to his turn as Mickey here. Before Mickey shuffles off this mortal coil, he offers Rocky some advice. He states that the biggest threat to a fighter’s hunger to win is when he becomes ‘civilised’. We see this during some earlier sequences with Rocky advertising products such as American Express cards (I take it these ads went better than the ones we saw him attempting in Rocky II) and appearing on The Muppet Show (surely any celebrities high point). Rocky, Adrian and their son now live in a mansion, have staff and Rocky now dresses more like someone who works on Wall Street than the regular Joe he was in the earlier films.
I love that none other than Apollo Creed replaces Mickey as Rocky’s trainer with the aim of trying to make him hungry again. The training sequences (another staple of the Rocky franchise which works so well) show Rocky to be lacklustre at first but then locate the passion and desire to win again. These sequences are something else as we see Apollo wearing a crop top for one of these scenes and later get to see Rocky wearing not just a crop top but a headband (!) to boot. When Rocky has relocated his killer instinct there are also scenes of both characters frolicking in the sea together. Such joyous scenes of male bonding and gay abandon. I wonder if the pair planned a weekend in Fire Island after Rock won his second fight and took back the title.
Rocky III is a fantastic film and shows that the franchise was still full of vitality, brilliant ideas and far from becoming tired or listless. I was going to say that Rocky III might be my favourite film in the franchise but I know the entry that is coming next. Rocky IV was the first Rocky film I got to see in a cinema rather than on video and is one hell of a movie. Review coming soon.
4 stars out of 5