Rocky III ★★★½

Our next entry in the Rocky franchise happens to be my favorite, even if it ratchets the goofiness to eleven. Rocky III manages to find its tone and pace, allowing the dramatic moments to play out well without coming across forced or cliché and took a huge risk regarding the fate of a central character that worked well for the film. Set four years after the previous chapter, Rocky Balboa has had a string of ten successful title defenses, with his fame, wealth, endorsements, and celebrity profile increasing as a result. His manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith) worriedly eyes a young and powerful contender rapidly rising through the ranks named James "Clubber" Lang (Mr. T); while unveiling a statue of himself at the stairway by the Philadelphia Museum of Art just prior to announcing his retirement, Rocky is publicly challenged by Lang for a championship fight. After taking a pounding from the young contender, the humbled champ turns to his former rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) for training before having a rematch against Lang.

The opening montage at the three minute mark, accompanied by Survivor's hit song "Eye of the Tiger", is my favorite sequence since it clearly shows Rocky's fame skyrocketing while also introducing us to Clubber Lang and how he rises to become the number-one contender. It is perfectly edited in sync with the beats of the song that it never fails in getting me pumped. Cinematographer Bill Butler and composer Bill Conti return from Rocky II and again do a great job in their respective fields, while editing duties were handled by Mark Warner and Don Zimmerman. The editing is certainly flashier, but never calls attention to itself when we witness a montage revolving around Rocky and Clubber training themselves or during the actual boxing matches. The writing and directing by Stallone allows for the character of Rocky to go on another underdog arc after the vicious and angry Lang dethrones him, which is clearly obvious in regards to how it'll end but I liked the progression towards the rematch and how Apollo whips Rocky into shape. The obvious 80s spectacle is on full display here, since the first match deals with Rocky going up against the world wrestling champion Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) and shows police officers being tossed aside before Rocky manages to subdue him; it's silly, but never fails in making me laugh in a good way. There are some genuine sad moments especially when Mickey dies from a heart attack, and these quieter moments where Rocky mourns are executed well since he always considered Mickey a surrogate father and we see the pain and sadness reflected on his face.

Long before The A-Team made him a pop culture icon, Mr. T's Clubber Lang was his breakout role in movies and he is certainly chewing the scenery. He may be a flat character regarding his development not extending beyond anger and boisterous intimidation, but it was nice to see a genuine villain show up in this series after Apollo Creed was more of a friendly competitor. And speaking of Creed, Carl Weathers once again makes the character likable and the moments where he is willing to get Rocky back into shape are my favorite bits in the whole film. Burgess Meredith again does a good job as Mickey, and his final moments before succumbing to his heart attack is just gut-wrenching. Talia Shire and Burt Young were also good returning to the roles of Adrian and Paulie, even Ian Fried as Rocky and Adrian's son was quite good in regards to child actors. Stallone's performance is not Oscar-caliber material, but he truly cares for the character and shows a wide range of emotions this time; you genuinely care about Balboa and want to see him regain his groove which only goes to show that this is the best movie character Stallone has ever breathed life into.

Rocky III may be campy and play across more like a superhero film, but that's where its charm lies. It's not as good as the first film but I like rewatching it on occasion to see Rocky have to build himself back up and reclaim his title as heavyweight champion. Check in tomorrow as the road to Creed II's release continues with a look at Rocky IV.