Rocky III is a fairly important movie for several reasons:
- Despite Rocky II being rather conclusive, R3 proved there was still some gas left in the story tank. Rocky IV and beyond ran on fumes.
- It was the breakout role for Mr. T. Thanks to this movie, he became an TV star and Eighties fixture.
- Hulk Hogan received a huge boost in attention too.
- For me, R3 is the last film Stallone starred in before he started to actually believe or live his own press through stinkburgers such as Cobra, Rambo II and Rocky IV. Sly did redeem himself a little in the Nineties through Cliffhanger, Demolition Man and Cop Land. He continues backslide into crap.
- R3 has a signature style of training montage which set the standard for other Eighties’ flicks. This is what many contemporary comedies (South Park namely) are ridiculing because it led to numerous imitators.
Alamo Ritz stuck with the same pre-show things they showed at Conan, retrospectives on 1982, Wang/Commodore computer commercials, election outcomes, etc. Oddly the sponsor Collider didn’t appear, maybe the Hitfix instance was the exception not the rule. The two in-person hosts didn’t disappoint. The first guy came out, dressed as a promoter with Weird Al’s parody “The Theme to Rocky XIV” and introduced the evening’s special guest…Mr. Lowercase T!
The trailers were much more dead on before the feature: First Blood, DC Cab (Bill Maher was in this and Joel Schumacher directed!) and Rhinestone. Poltergeist was a reminder for next week.
For the third time in a row, this is a movie I never saw in theaters. Hell, I’ve never actually watched R3 in its entirety. I knew the gist of the story and had seen key scenes. When it was released (around this weekend 30 years ago), I was busier trying to enjoy my final days in Springfield, IL. I don’t even remember it existing until Mr. T’s star began rising. Besides, I was more stoked about Star Trek II and TRON hitting the local multiplex.
How is Rocky III 30 years later? Not bad. The first movie will always remain the best yet for an unnecessary sequel, R3 is fairly satisfying, more than Rocky II; R2 feels like the original with the ending a focus group wanted. Stallone should’ve stopped here since Rocky IV tapped into the jingoism I hated in the Eighties; Rocky V is beyond words in the realm of terrible; and Rocky Balboa fans the flames for the people who chant the litany about Hollywood being out of ideas. R3 succeeds to be a memorable, well-loved story by avoiding the trap other sequels fall into…re-hashing their sources by adding more characters (see every superhero franchise). You see how success and money has changed Rocky and Adrian, another montage! Rocky’s manager/coach Mickey dies at a critical moment. Apollo Creed goes from former rival to best friend/ally while filling the void left by Mickey. Lastly, it takes a really tough, hungry challenger in the form of Clubber Lang for Rocky to regain his edge. What Apollo calls the eye of the tiger, ergo the movie’s catchphrase and inspiration for the Survivor hit accompanying the film. These positive elements push R3 into the good movie camp, overcoming some two-dimensional acting and lazy storytelling. Its subtle homoeroticism made last-night’s audience laugh but in 1982, men’s shorts were shorter (hit around the thigh) and the more apparent homophobia of the era prevented people from taking away the “wrong” context in R3‘s cheesy dialogue. The boxing is comical too. In real matches, very few blows to the head really happen. The last fight I saw was Tyson v. Lewis in ’02. It was lame thanks to Lewis having a few-inch reach advantage on Tyson. This resulted in more hugging and dancing than jabs, swings or hooks. When punches do connect, somebody drops quickly unless he’s a zombie.
Another matter I want to bring up regarding R3 was made by author David Sirota in his opus Back to Our Future. I clearly recall him bringing up the Rocky saga during the book’s chapter covering racism making a stealthy comeback. Sirota pointed out how Rocky is a sympathetic, hard-working White hero getting screwed over by the system; Black boxers are taking away what is rightfully his in R1 and here’s this scary beast in R3. I think Sirota over-analyzed and chose to find racism with both movies. He overlooked some glaring facts. Until recently, Black Americans were the best boxers on Earth. Today, most championships have Spanish surnames on the marquees. Stallone wrote these movies for himself to star in, he just happened to be White. I heard another guy (via NPR) who used to be involved in promoting boxing said today’s potential heavyweight contenders of all ethnicities choose the NFL route for its more lucrative pay. This would explain the rise of lower weight categories getting coverage. I subscribe to a theory on Pro Boxing once proposed by Eddie Murphy 30 years ago. I can only paraphrase it:
Have you noticed that the best boxers in the world are the disliked, picked on minorities? Long ago the champ was an Irishman, then an Italian, now it’s Black people’s turn. I’m sure somewhere on a reservation there’s an (American) Indian waiting to kick someone’s ass.
Sirota just chose to overlook Stallone’s great luck in casting Clubber Lang. Mr. T oozes charisma, menace and determination. The guy could be Martian and it wouldn’t matter, his acting made the story work. I also enjoy Mr. T on many levels, especially when he’s self-effacing or doing a humorous piece. The Eighties wouldn’t be the same without Mr. T and his catchphrase “I pity the fool!”
Final side note about R3. Twenty-five years ago, I did see the famous statue in Philly. Stallone gave it to the city as a gift and it was installed in front of the Spectrum when the Sixers and Flyers played there. I don’t know if the rumors were true but when I moved there for the Summer I heard Philly’s reaction was oh you shouldn’t have, you shouldn’t have as if Sly gave them an ugly sweater they’ve never worn. My reaction around 1987 was “feh!” I was more interested in getting to my seat to see the Psychedelic Furs and Misson UK. The Spectrum was torn down a few years ago so an overpriced shopping center could be built. What the statue’s fate was is a research project for another day.
1982 (13-year-old me): I. The Incomplete grade feels like a cop out. I know what my opinions were then, I wasn’t big on sports-themed movies. The bigger dilemma is that of the eight movies Alamo chose, Rocky III is the one I didn’t have a strong interest in seeing 30 years ago. Had I seen it while it was relatively fresh, I think I would’ve had positive feelings toward it. Even when I was a jaded teen, Carl Weathers rocked and Mr. T wasn’t an Eighties cliche or living meme machine. The Incomplete is the most accurate grade I could honestly give this.
2012: B+. Again, the emphasis is on how it appeared to be a cynical, lazy sequel yet proved to be a good continuation in the Rocky story. Would I watch it again? Maybe once every few years, preferably if I were doing a Rocky marathon or Stallone retrospective of his good movies.
Rocky III‘s life lessons as per Conan and Mad Max 2:
- Sometimes a former rival/nemesis can be your new best friend/ally. I’m talking a really good friend, not the saying the enemy of my enemy is my ally crap Reagan used as foreign policy with Iraq
- Don’t forget where you started from and let material possessions become more important, what Mickey called getting civilized
- Fear and doubt are the true enemy