Thursday 21 February 2019

Movie Review: Rocky III (1982)

The third instalment in the franchise, Rocky III maintains the respectable quality of the series and finds a suitable new foe to juice up the boxing action.

Three years after dramatically winning the heavyweight boxing title, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is living the privileged life with his wife Adrian (Talia Shire) and young son Robert, although brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) remains stuck in a self-pity rut. Having easily defended his title ten times, Rocky is now more focused on marketing his name through product sponsorships and charity events, including a chaotic bout against wrestling champion Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan).

With Rocky starting to consider retirement, hard-punching challenger Clubber Lang (Mr. T) works his way up the rankings and demands a shot at the title. Rocky's trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), now in frail health, warns Rocky not to face Clubber and reveals that all Rocky's title challengers to date were handpicked to prolong Rocky's reign. With his ego bruised and confidence shaken, Rocky has to decide whether to rise to the challenge and prove his true worth in the ring. He finds help from an unexpected source: former rival and champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

With the first two chapters having concluded Rocky's underdog journey from washed-up hardhead to champion, the search for new challenges commences. Written and directed by Stallone and economically edited into 100 minutes, Rocky III finds a worthy villain in the trash talking, perpetually angry and snarling Clubber Lang, forever embedding Mr. T's limited but effective persona into the cultural landscape.

And as a soundtrack to Rocky's quest to rediscover his edge, the song Eye of the Tiger by the group Survivor somehow manages to be both extraordinarily irritating and incredibly catchy, it's muscular chords instantly recognizable and allowing the film series to now boast two indelible contributions to the history of cinematic music.

Rocky III moves the action into the ring three times, once against Thunderlips, where humour and pain meet, and twice much more seriously against Clubber. Instead of the prolonged multi-round epics of the first two movies, here all the bouts are brutally short, cramming intensity into a few unforgiving rounds. It's a jarring shift for the franchise, and Stallone the director deserves credit for delivering fierce drama in the two battles with Clubber.

The action is still Hollywoodized in the extreme, with an unending flurry of punches landing in seemingly every second of every round, but there is no doubting the pugilist thrills on display.

Outside the ring the film ambles along a now predictable path. With the characters and relationships well defined into an optimized formula, Rocky III goes looking for new angles and finds a sharp one in the emerging bond between Rocky and Apollo. The former foes turning into friends, with Apollo helping Rocky to rediscover his hunger and evolve his fighting style, peaks with another not-bad training montage.

Whether he knew it or not at this stage, in forging the bond between Rocky and Creed, Stallone the writer was creating the foundation for both the short and long-term legacies of the series.

Neither a knockout nor a dive, Rocky III wins on points.

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