By David Litton
January 8, 2004
If Rocky was a story of reaching for the ultimate goal, and Rocky II the additional thread that gave its protagonist the boost needed to achieve it, then Rocky III is the cautionary tale of dealing with the aftermath. In the wake of winning the title of heavyweight champion against Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has become the stuff of legend, an icon in the world of boxing. Everywhere he goes he’s noticed- by fans, by well-wishers, and by aspiring boxer Clubber Lang (Mr. T), who makes a note of Rocky’s status as champ, and announces that he wants a piece of the action. Rocky, riding high on the wave of fame and fortune that has since come his way, hardly takes notice, as he’s too busy promoting his image by engaging in boxer/wrestler matches for charity (watch for a hilariously cheesy Hulk Hogan). But after a brutal beating by Lang in the ring and the sudden death of an old friend and teacher, Rocky begins to realize that his talent is only good as long as he keeps himself in check.
So, after two movies, what’s left? Well, not much, and that’s not to say that there needs to be, either. Win, lose, or draw, you pretty much know that whatever happens, Rocky is either going to win, or come out of the experience a better man who might be thinking to himself, “If I knew then what I know now…” Here, he gets to do both, and let me tell ya, what a rush it is watching him polish off his most unique and unorthodox opponent in a final battle that’s every bit as rewarding as it is energetic. But before all of that can go down, he has to go through the usual motions of trying to find the will to fight once again, taking advice from a former foe and listening to the always-wise words of Adrian (Talia Shire), who gives new meaning to the phrase “Stand by your man.” Writer/director Stallone once again keeps things involving and full of blood, sweat, and good old-fashioned punch. As predictable as these movies have become by Chapter III, this one proves that a champ never truly loses his title.
By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) reigns as heavyweight champion of the world. But he has grown soft with the trappings of success — commercial endorsements, his picture on the covers of Newsweek and Sports Illustrated. Just when he is ready to announce his retirement from the ring, Clubber Lang (Mr. T), an aggressive and rude black boxer with a hunger for the championship, verbally abuses him in front of a crowd. Rocky instinctively responds and decides to give him a title shot.
In on evening, Rocky goes down to defeat and suffers the loss of his beloved manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith), who dies of a heart attack. This double blow plunges the fighter into the pits of depression. But then Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) volunteers to train him for a rematch with Clubber Lang. Can Rocky regain his competitive edge, what Mickey called “the eye of the tiger”?
Cultural critic John Lahr has written: “Fame is America’s Faustian bargain; a passport to the good life which trivializes human endeavor.” Suffering from the effects of fame, Rocky must push himself to the limits of his physical and psychic strength in order to regain his self-esteem. His wife (Talia Shire) is willing to endure the hardships of living in the L. A. slums while Rocky trains with Apollo, learning to “sting like a bee” and move fast on his feet.
Rocky III is an audience-involving film, and it is to Stallone’s credit as a popular film director that we cheer for the champ in both victory and defeat. Rocky’s real battle is against the distractions of success. In the end, we applaud not what happens in the right but Rocky’s ability to get back in touch with himself.