Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rocky III

Since I missed out on May with a blog from the Rocky franchise, today I will attempt to make up for it with a two-for-one special covering 1982’s Rocky III and 1985’s Rocky IV. While on the topic of boxing, I want to mention how I watched the big Mayweather/Pacquiao fight on PPV last month at the town’s local Buffalo Wild Wings with a friend, and got really into the fight. I read a few reports online afterwards that were disappointed that it was not a over-the-top slugfest, but I somehow got really into the defensive clinic Mayweather put on and got lost in the ‘sweet science’ of it all. A couple weeks later, I then went with the same friend to a local boxing card put on in town where he had a family member winning in the main event. I had a great time at my first ever all-boxing live event, so combine that with attempting to watch all the Rocky films this year and I can safely say this has been the biggest year for boxing for me yet.

Before watching the Rocky movies again this year on the recent BluRay collection I acquired, I only watched the first five Rocky films once each after a marathon session of one a week when I bought them in a DVD set back in 2004. So this marks my first time watching Rocky III (trailer) since. My memories of it were that aside from the awesome fight scenes, it was a bit too campy and that it tried to do too much in too little time resulting in one of the weaker films of the series. For the most part, Rocky III is a shift in tone as it no longer is going for the dramatic prestige tone that the two films before it did. It opens with the closing moments of Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) finally beating Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) to win the world title at the end of Rocky II.

After the intro there is what else, but a montage of Rocky going on a successful stretch of 10 title defenses. During this montage we witness Balboa transform from the loveable everyman underdog into a corporate champion doing charity work, birthday parties and countless commercials and endorsements. It was like when Steve Austin almost accepted Vince McMahon’s evil offer of selling out to become a corporate champion right after he won his first world title back in 1998. Stallone directed both of the films I am covering today, and I think he was a little too successful in making me hate the Rocky character during this montage. You know what grinds my gears…wait for it…corporate sell outs with holier than though commercials, like the pretentious ‘Michael Vick Experience’ ad from when Vick was lighting up the Falcons in the early 2000s and awful memories of nearly everyone abusing his overpowered scrambling ability in online Madden games. Vick was doing all kinds of awful commercials like this taking in every easy endorsement, it was almost like all this money shoved in his face was a precursor that would lead him down a dark path to….oh yeah.

The Michael Vick analogy somewhat relates to Rocky as we witness Balboa transform into this not-so-loveable character anymore doing all these endorsements, while during the same montage we are introduced to Clubber Lang (Mr. T) who shared my disgust of Balboa selling out and being fed easy contenders. Yes, Rocky III was the breakout film for Mr. T that lead to him launching the successful A-Team TV series and doing countless commercials afterwards for many years to come. Lang vents his frustrations to move his way up the ranks to #1 contender status and challenges Rocky to a fight at a special ceremony unveiling the legendary Rocky Balboa statue in Philadelphia that is still standing today. Rocky’s trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) warns Balboa he has been handpicking him easy fights and that Lang is a killer not to be messed with, but Rocky does not take his warning seriously as we witness him in a so-cheesy-bad-it’s awesome AWFUL TRAINING MONTAGE! Rocky III is filled with so many montages I could not find this one to link to, but I swear it is hilarious watching Balboa mug for the camera for pictures and take kisses from adoring fans during his training while Lang is tearing up a dark, gritty gym. It is legendary material!

We get to the Lang/Balboa fight midway through the film, and during the prefight entrance Lang gets in Rocky’s face and shoves Mick which causes Mick to get a heart attack and die!!! Balboa goes into the fight mentally distraught and loses the title to Lang in a brutal beat down that was over in two rounds. We were warned earlier in the film that Mick had heart problems after getting woozy during a big kerfluffle at a Rocky vs. Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) boxer vs. wrestler charity fight. Yes, this film also brought nationwide attention to the Hulkster and was the launchpad for Hulkamania taking off a year later in the then-WWF. Did I mention all this has happened in just the first half of a film that is only just over an hour and a half long!?!?

The last half of the film has Apollo Creed catching up with Balboa in mourning back at Mick’s old gym. Carl Weathers is once again masterful as the smooth-talking Apollo Creed as he convinces Balboa to be his trainer and get him ready for a rematch with Lang! Apollo convinces Rocky that he needs to recapture that fighter’s “eye of the tiger” which also happens to be the new hit single on the soundtrack that is essentially the theme song for this film, and now associated as one of THE top songs of many runner playlists. From here we get out of the awful, corporate sellout atmosphere to a much more appreciate back-to-basics tone when Balboa trains with Creed at his first gym. The training starts off poorly for Rocky, but a good-natured and well delivered speech from Rock’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire) is all the impetus Balboa needs to get ‘the eye’ for an awesome training montage with Rock and Apollo busting out all kinds of sports gear for then-newcomer sportswear company Nike.

Rock goes into the film’s final act now slimmer, wiser and better prepared for Lang. Unlike the final fight in the previous two films, this is not a 15 round epic, but instead a fast and intense three rounds we see play it out in its entirety complete with over-the-top sound effects for all the punches that sounded like the fighters were unleashing gunfire out of a Stallone Rambo movie instead of taking actual sounding boxing punches, but it makes the final fight all the more epic for it. I love the film’s final showdown, as both Rocky and Lang are intense and deliver an awesome over-the-top slugfest that we want out of all boxing fights in real life, but we will have to make peace with them primarily existing on the silver screen instead. Once I got wise to Rocky’s strategy I was back on board the Balboa bandwagon and wanted him to knock Lang’s lights out.

After Balboa emerges (SPOILER!) victorious in the rematch, the film has an unforgettable closing scene where Apollo wants a favor from Rocky for tacking him under his tutelage. Creed gets that favor in a one-on-one closed gym fighting session with Balboa that Apollo kicks off with his metaphorical bell ringing proclamation, “DING-DING” that has lived on in infamy and quoted many times over ever since. I went into Rocky III kind of dreading it, and while the film takes the franchise in a campier direction than I wanted with a few cringe-worthy moments of Balboa living the high life that is a bit of a pain to sit through, it all makes sense in the form of Rocky regaining his fighting spirit and vanquishing Lang in the end and making a new best friend in former rival Apollo Creed.

After watching this again 11 years later I realize I took for granted all the great things Rocky IIIintroduced the world to. For better or worse, it made Hulk Hogan and Mr. T into superstars, it gave athletes one of the best motivational songs to work out to with “Eye of the Tiger,” it helped give a then-up-and-coming Nike major nationwide attention and Rocky III is responsible for one of the best closing lines in cinema history! I think I still rank this film behind I, II, IV and Rocky Balboa in my rankings, but now it is just a notch or two under them where before I thought of it as more of a mediocre entry.

I was going to combine my review for Rocky IV here, but I went far longer than I anticipated with this review that I am going to have to dedicate a new blog to Rocky IV. Long time readers know I love indulging in behind-the-scenes extra features, but thank goodness in this case there are none on the BluRay or else this review would be even longer for you to endure.

Past Rocky Blogs

Rocky II

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