Sly Stallone is back as writer, director and star in this 1982 sequel, which sees Rocky Balboa facing his strongest opponent yet: Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T, of BBC Three’s World’s Craziest Fools.
Rocky III, which is Roman for Rocky 3, follows exactly the same template as its predecessors: Rocky turns his back on boxing (for good this time), gets pulled back in, crisis in confidence, someone makes a speech, training montage, fight, and so on. This makes the movie too predictable, but no less entertaining. These films are so fluent in the language of the sports movie that the most predictable outcomes and biggest clichés score a KO every time. Just like the manipulative editing of reality TV, it’s scary to see how easily humans can be brainwashed.
Gone is the blue-collar drama of parts I and II, replaced by the tacky glamour of the 1980s, while character development becomes secondary to the fight scenes, which take another step up in unrelenting quality. Even the punches that clearly don’t actually connect are utterly convincing, thanks to the extraordinarily painful sound effects. Meanwhile, the sight of Hulk Hogan holding Sylvester Stallone high above his head has to be seen to be believed, in a scene that resembles Wolverine boxing with the Blob in X Men Origins: Wolverine.
As for Mr. T, his inability to act and two-dimensional arsehole of a character adds a mohawked lump of ridiculousness to proceedings. It’s unclear whether Clubber Lang dresses and talks like Mr. T or vice versa, but either way the A-Team star and Snickers enthusiast seems thoroughly confused about where fiction ends and reality begins. Talking of ridiculous men, Stallone looks like Jerry Seinfeld has had a massive allergic reaction. He appears to have forgotten how to play Rocky and the resulting character is quite different in this film. He’s entirely competent, witty even, and never says “Yo” in the whole movie.
Talia Shire’s Adrian also seems to fluctuate as a character depending on what the plot requires. When Rocky wants to fight, she’ll beg him not to, but when Rocky’s thinking of packing it all in, she’ll urge him to fight. Burt Young is back as Paulie, now more awful than ever. He’s racist, ungrateful and has to be told not to give Rocky’s child any beer. Burgess Meredith and Carl Weathers also return, with Apollo Creed’s impressive presence and rounded characterisation only emphasising Mr. T’s absurd level of villainy. The only character not to return is Rocky’s dog Butkus, who has presumably died, though including that in the film would have been too manipulative even for a Rocky movie.
While Rocky III sees the franchise grow excessively repetitive, it still manages to be completely entertaining, features the now iconic use of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, and ultimately delivers the goods. The goods in this case being Stallone and Mr. T beating the crap out of each other.