Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is now Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World after successfully defeating Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), and has gone onto global stardom, with many celebrity endorsements and television guest appearances to his name - he is even on The Muppet Show. The fights keep coming, and he wins them all, but some feel that Rocky is having it easy and has not met a genuine challenge since he won the championship. One of those doubters is Clubber Lang (Mr. T) who is determined to fight him, and the way he is rising up the rankings he may well get his wish: Rocky has a shock coming...
The previous two Rocky films had been very much about finding the sunshine amid some seventies grittiness, but for the third instalment a new decade had dawned and a new eighties gloss was applied to the story, not of an underdog who fought against the odds to succeed, but about someone who had already made it and either went out on top, or suffered a fall. Stallone, writing and directing, patently decided he preferred Rocky as that underdog as he would be in the following movies so the only way to bring his character down so he could battle back to regain his self-respect and the admiration of his fans was to have him suffer a ringing defeat. And that, in effect, is what happens.
One of the film's best assets is in its villain, Clubber Lang, with Mr. T making a tremendous impression as the loudmouth brawler whose bite is as bad as his bark - he even yells out propositions to Adrian, Rocky's wife (Talia Shire) to illustrate what a cad he is. Say what you like about Stallone's writing, he can expertly apply those broad strokes, and if Lang is more like a cartoon character then he is still a formidable opponent. When the two meet up for a match, Rocky is distracted because his trainer, Mickey (Burgess Meredith) is ailing, and has a heart attack just before the combat commences, underlining the fact that our hero is on a downward spiral. Rocky is unequivocably beaten by Lang, and suffers the tragedy of losing Mickey in the process.
If this sounds like a corny boxing flick from the thirties, then it's unsurprising as the other efforts in this series have that making it through the storms quality too, so in spite of the newfound slickness in the style, the old clichés were readily employed. In a way this makes the film more endearing, as Rocky admits that now he has been at the top, he's scared that he is going to lose it all after his defeat, but let's not kid ourselves here: this second sequel is kind of ridiculous. At times it's laugh out loud funny, especially when Mr. T is sounding off, apparently Lang is the world's angriest man: he even looks furious when he wins, and his turn of phrase - "I pity the fool," etc, - is well handled by the muscleman in his star-making movie debut.
Of course, it's not meant to be all that hilarious, but its unironic embracing of the inspirational will have cynics rolling their eyes heavenward at each progressive absurdity. None more so than the "favour" that Apollo asks Rocky to do in return for allowing him to train the past it ex-champ now Mickey is out of the way, with those training montages he puts him through so lovingly lingering over their toned bodies that you half expect Apollo's unspoken request to be something sexual. All this layers on the camp, and while not as outrageously silly as the sequel that arrived next, you can have a chuckle at such scenes as the melée that breaks out in the ring when Lang insults Apollo, or the intentionally ludicrous match between Rocky and Hulk Hogan's Thunderlips. The message about success softening up the hardest of men is lost in all of this by and by, but Rocky III was one of the better works in this series, also making "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor one of the most overplayed songs in history in the process. Music by Bill Conti.