Recall what it was that appealed to you about "Rocky", the original motion picture. If you are like me, it was the down and out tough guy Rocky, with a heart of pure gold, who finds true love with Adrian, and who gets a one in a million chance and makes the most of it. It is the courage and heart of Rocky that make you want to stand up and cheer for the guy. We love him because we see so much of him in all of us. Unfortunately, the side of Rocky we love so much is gone in Rocky III.
In Rocky III, Rocky loses himself to fame and glory. The guy with the heart of gold who cracks corny jokes is replaced by a successful well-dressed, well-housed, cultured man, who has transformed himself into a man-of-the-world through his successes. He is no longer the man we fell in love with in the original. He has changed. (I suspect this story is a treatise of the personal life of Sylvester Stallone, as his is a rags to riches overnight success story as well).
The theme of the movie is that success spoils (and changes) a person, as it takes away the inner drive to push forward and strive to be the best. In Rocky's case, he loses his title (to the fearsome Clubber Lang, whose personality and style resemble Mike Tyson) and manager (Mickey - heart attack) in one felled swoop, and is lost in a sea of fear and indecision. Coming to the rescue is none other than Apollo Creed, the man Rocky took the title from originally. Creed takes over for the deceased Mickey Goldmill, and tries to transform Rocky from a crude slugger to a svelt polished boxer. He meets with limited success, as the real problem is that for the first time in his life, Rocky is afraid to face his opponent. A confrontation on the beach between wife Adrian and Rocky is the turning point of the film. It is very well done by the way. Talia Shire (Adrian) is often overlooked as just being Rocky's wife, but her scenes in all the films are some of the best scenes of all, and give the films the heart and soul that make the series so enjoyable. As the moral compass of his life, Adrian gets to the heart of the matter and sets her man back on the right path. This sets the stage for the rematch, where we already know what the outcome is going to be.
Rocky overcomes his fear, uses his new polished boxing skills gleaned from Apollo Creed, and trounces the feared Clubber. For me, it is too formulaic to work. The fight scenes with Clubber are pure baloney (my gosh, does either fighter know that it is legal to block a punch?). The fight is meant to demonstrate that Rocky has overcome his fear of Clubber, but the "boxing" is so contrived, it is hard to take seriously.
Hulk Hogan plays a minor role that lends some comic diversion to the story. Hogan is impressive and realistic in playing his wrestling personna.
Mr. T plays the fearsome Clubber Lang. Lang is very much like the real-life Mike Tyson we have come to despise. Stallone developed the character of Clubber Lang 3 years before Tyson came on the boxing scene, so Tyson cannot be the inspiration for the personality of Clubber. In any event, Clubber is an animal (he has the "eye of the tiger") who trains himself in primitive surroundings and will stop at nothing to
become the champion. Mr. T is to be congratulated for his over-the-top performance.
The scene where trainer Mickey dies is a tear-jerking one, and it is well-done. Where Adrian is Rocky's moral compass, Mick is Rocky's professional compass, enabling and inspiring Rocky to be more than he can be. Mick gives Rocky confidence and success because Rocky knows Mick believes in him (and he respects Mick). Burgess Meredith was the quintessential boxing trainer, all full of spit, grit, and vinegar. I will miss him.
While the film deals with a crisis of courage and heart in Rocky, (a serious theme indeed), it somewhat lacks the inspiring emotional punch that was so evident in the original film. It tries to recapture this in the training sequences with Apollo, but falls a bit short (can we seriously believe that Rocky can outrun Apollo Creed? Again, too contrived for my liking). But what the heck, this is the second sequel, so how much can we ask of a sequel?
The film is certainly entertaining, but it is not the picture of the year that "Rocky" was in 1976.
Jim "Konedog" Koenig