The one with Mr. T…
Who made it?: Sylvester Stallone (Director/Writer), Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler (Producers), United Artists.
Who’s in it?: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan.
Tagline: “A Fighter. A Lover. A Legend. The Greatest Challenge.”
IMDb rating: 6.6/10.
Against all odds, 1976’s Rocky garnered three Oscars and earned in excess of $100 million at the domestic box office from a $1 million budget. Three years later, Rocky II grossed over $200 million worldwide from a similarly small budget. Considering the immense success of these movies, a third Rocky flick was inevitable. Unfortunately, though, Rocky III – similar to the titular protagonist – was the point where the franchise became more civilised, trim and glamorous. With a shorter runtime, the character-based drama of prior Rocky movies was diminished here in favour of action and cartoonish fight scenes (just listen to the embellished sound effects). To be sure, Rocky III is enjoyable if merely perceived as a cheesy 80s action movie, but it’s not exactly a worthy follow-up to the Oscar-winning 1976 original.
Like Rocky II, this third Rocky picture kicks off with a brief recap of the climax of its immediate predecessor; reminding us that Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has defeated Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and earned the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World. Following this recap, a brisk montage illustrates the next few years of Rocky’s boxing career as he defends his title and basks in the trappings of fame, wealth and success. At the top of his profession, Rocky decides to retire from the ring. However, an aggressive, arrogant up-and-coming boxer named Clubber Lang (Mr. T) possesses a genuine hunger for the title, and begins bullying Balboa into agreeing to fight him. Pride and complacency leads to a boxing match between Lang and Rocky, but Rocky ends up losing the match to his merciless competitor. With the title lost and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) dead, Rocky is depressed, humiliated and has lost his passion for boxing. However, Apollo soon steps into the picture and offers to train Rocky for a rematch against Lang.
During the three-year gap between Rocky II and Rocky III, Stallone slimmed down his body and built up a lot of muscle to turn himself into a lean, mean fighting machine. It would seem that the star applied a similar philosophy to this movie, which he again scripted. Rocky III is a lean movie – it’s twenty minutes shorter than its two predecessors, and the focus is more on boxing action and confrontations. Elements such as character progression, dramatic growth and insightful dialogue were kept to a minimum here. Furthermore, by this point in the series, Stallone was happy to follow the same old boring formula, and in the process neglected the heart and soul that allowed the first two movies to belie their formulaic nature. For lack of better words, Rocky III is a commercial vehicle which situates the trademark Rocky characters within a simplistic revenge tale. It almost goes without saying that character behaviour in the film is predictable to the point of being groan-worthy, and the outcome of the climactic boxing match can be figured out long before it occurs.
On the upside, Rocky III benefits immensely by the presence of Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. The boxing/wrestling crossover which constitutes Hogan’s cameo is absurd, but it’s fun and enjoyable nevertheless. Meanwhile, the Mr. T vs. Rocky battles are entertaining, well-crafted and fist-pumping. Not to mention, Mr. T is the true highlight of this feature. With his mohawk and feather earrings, Mr. T is a brutal beast to behold, and, though his performance is single-note, his presence affords the film a touch of personality. After all, Mr. T’s role is more convincing as a boxer than Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed who was more of a showman. And it was here where Mr. T first uttered the immortal line, “I pity the fool.” Added to this, Rocky III was produced before Mr. T shot to fame as the popular B.A. Baracus in The A-Team, and thus it’s interesting to watch this film in a historical sense. Another of the movie’s greatest assets is the famous Survivor song “Eye of the Tiger”, which subsequently became a radio staple and was catapulted to the top of the charts. The song remains a widespread favourite to this day.
While Mr. T is a fun villain, the depiction of Balboa is unfortunately lacking in this particular instalment. As presented here, Rocky has lost a degree of his lovable edge. Not to mention, Stallone’s performance is lazy and, at times, utterly naff. For an example of this, witness Stallone moping over Mickey’s corpse – it’s almost painful to see acting that inept. Despite this – and despite the film’s cheesiness, simplicity and lack of human drama, as well as its adherence to a painfully familiar formula, Rocky III still delivers a number of the pleasures associated with the series. Its slick, polished, fun to watch, overflowing with testosterone, and it will motivate you to go out and exercise.
You know what to expect by now… MONTAGE!
- According to an interview given by Mr. T, he attended the movie’s premiere with his mother. During the scene where he yells lurid remarks at Adrian, his mother turned to him and said “I did not raise you to talk to a lady like that.” She then stormed out of the theatre.
- A song titled “You’re the Best” performed by Joe Esposito was recorded for the film. But Stallone rejected it in favor of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” “You’re the Best” was later used in The Karate Kid (1984).
- During the making of Rocky III, a 9ft tall, 1500-pound bronze statue designed byA. Thomas Schomberg was placed at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts. After filming wrapped, Stallone tried to donate the statue to the museum but they said they didn’t want it, sparking a huge debate between the Museum and the City’s Art Commission about what constituted “art.” The museum claimed the statue was nothing more than a “movie prop”, and didn’t want it. Local people were outraged, and the statue was ultimately placed in front of the Wachovia Spectrum in South Philadelphia. It was later returned to the Art Museum for the filming of Rocky V (1990), after which it was again moved to the front of the Spectrum. Later the statue was put into storage, and then moved to a park at the foot of the famous stairs leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Arts.