Friday, October 16, 2015

Rocky III

FlashBack Friday is upon us again! Sorry for the inconsistency, but I should still be able fit these all in before the release of Creed on Thanksgiving weekend. If the last review was a surprise due to my lack of exposure to the material, the opposite may be true with Rocky III. I watched this movie constantly as a kid, and could probably quote most of the lines from memory. Having said that, it has been around a decade since I'd last seen it, so the possibility of it not living up to my nostalgic memories was a bit of a concern going in. Luckily, there was also a lot of emotional depth that I didn't remember as well, so things actually evened out rather nicely. From here on, my prediction for this review is... SPOILERS! And also talking about what's good and bad... you know, normal review stuff.

It's been a few years since Rocky pulled off the upset of all upsets by defeating Apollo Creed and capturing the World Heavyweight championship, and he's become quite a prolific champion with ten title defenses under his belt already. While Rocky is reveling in his new-found fame and fortune, however, a hungry title contender named Clubber Lang is angling for a bout with Philadelphia's favorite son. Little does the champ know that his manager and trainer, Mickey, has been avoiding any serious threats to their title, and is particularly hesitant to grant the ill-mannered fighter a shot in the ring against his precious Rocky. After a public display of Lang's bad attitude (See what I did there, all you A-Team fans?) at a statue unveiling, Rocky decides he's had enough and agrees to take on the trash-talking brute. But much to Mickey's dismay, Rocky doesn't take it seriously, caring far more about public posturing than about his conditioning. As a result of his lack of preparation, and the untimely heart-attack from his trainer, Rocky gets pummeled in the ring and loses the belt in just two rounds. Devastated by the loss of Mickey, and with no sense of purpose or accomplishment after the public humiliation he'd received at Clubber's fists, his only hope is through the aid of an old opponent offering his help and friendship in return for a mysterious favor.

Man, this movie has so much to talk about that I could spend this entire review just recapping the movie scene-to-scene... but I'll spare you. Let me just say that gone are the long scenes of dialogue and character-evolving scenes, which isn't necessarily a bad thing! With this film, Rocky is going through an evolution, both the character and the franchise, and what emerges is an incredibly fun and entertaining experience that solidified the stereotype we've all come to enjoy. We have about seven action-packed montages in this movie, but perhaps the most impactful is right at the very beginning, kicking off with a song that has not only become synonymous with the Rocky series, but has become one of the most played tunes at every sporting event since this film's release - EYE OF THE TIGER! There's a reason this song is iconic, even if it has been a bit overplayed. It's a perfect song for this movie (which makes sense, given that Stallone asked Survivor to write it specifically for the film), but it's crazy to think that his initial choice was Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust"... which is also a great song, but wouldn't have worked quite as well as an anthem for Rocky.

Next up is the... wrestling scene with Hulk Hogan? That's definitely a new flavor for the Rocky series. But I have to say, I absolutely ate this stuff up as a kid! Even now I still get an odd primal kind of enjoyment from it (even if I can't tell if we're supposed to take it seriously or not...). Either way, as goofy as the random inclusion of a charity fight against a professional wrestler is, they actually use it to further the story for a few characters. For example, we see the beginnings of Mickey's heart problems as he clutches at his chest during the chaos. They could have just thrown that in before the fight with Clubber, but I appreciate Stallone's effort to set these things up in advance. The fight is crazy, though... seriously, "Thunderlips" tries to break Rocky's back, he punches spectators, throws a referee across the ring, and even knocks out Paulie for good measure! CRAZY!

People like to make fun of Mr. T's acting abilities, and I can't entirely disagree. There are some moments where it's a little painful. On the other hand, he also has scenes where I'm legitimately impressed with his delivery. When he's harassing Adrian at the statue unveiling, for instance, I thought he showed a dimension to his acting that he hasn't really shown since that moment, that I can recall. Besides, his main role in this movie is to be intimidating and bullying, which he definitely achieves. His training is obviously taken more seriously than Rocky's, and the beat-down he gives the champ is a direct result of that. It's kind of hard to watch this fight as a Rocky fan, because he's completely out-matched and gets handed his worst defeat in the entire series. Also, I know people like to laugh at Stallone's blubbering after Mickey dies, but I actually found it pretty heart breaking this time around (possibly because I turned on subtitles).

If anything good comes out of this fight, it's the subsequent reunion between Rocky and Apollo Creed, his former nemesis. Carl Weathers is incredibly charismatic (especially in his comedic roles later in life), and he breathes fresh life into this movie from the moment he confronts Rocky in Mickey's gym. Admittedly, there are a few uncomfortable moments when Paulie makes blatantly racist remarks (as well as a few awkward slow-motion running scenes on the beach with numerous thigh close-ups), but other than that I quite enjoyed the training scenes where Rocky is trying to learn a new style of fighting to take on the bigger fighter. The big turning point for Rocky is the passionate speech by Adrian, who gets her moment to shine by talking some sense into her husband.

Of all the fights we get in this series, however, this ending one may be one of my least favorite. It's not really much of a challenge for Rocky, who breezes through Clubber Lang in three rounds once he regains his "eye of the tiger" from Apollo. I always preferred the fights that went the distance, especially when the odds are really stacked against Rocky and he perseveres regardless. Sure, Clubber gets a few good hits in, but the ending statement by Rocky when the fight is over says it all. When asked how he feels he simply says, "Never better!" Not exactly the sign of a difficult fight, and I wasn't invested in it as a result. Thankfully, this is something that will be fixed in a later movie... and no, I'm not talking about Tommy "The Machine" Gunn.

Though the ending fight is a bit lackluster, the ending scene with Apollo cashing in his "favor" is one of the most memorable moments in the franchise. They even reference it in the trailer for Creed, which I'm getting more excited for by the day. Overall, this is a very good movie, and though it's very different from the first two, it reinvents the series in a highly entertaining and extremely satisfying way that will be built upon in the next film. The acting is pretty solid throughout, and the nostalgia I had from my childhood holds up rather nicely to this day. I give Rocky III a strong three and a half stars.

ROCKY III is rated PG for intense sequences of boxing violence, peril and some mild language