WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Creed III is a contemporary sports drama that freshens up the Rocky franchise formula
Michael B Jordan and Jonathan Majors face off in the boxing ring in Creed III, the third entry in the Rocky spin-off film series.
It’s unlikely that Creed III is a direct commentary on 2022’s Oscar incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock. However, this third entry in the Rocky spin-off series does have quite a bit to say about contemporary black masculinity, particularly expectations in dealing with complex, painful emotions.
That isn’t to say this boxing tale is deeply introspective. It’s more a case that its thematic explorations help to set it apart from its series predecessors, and freshen up the franchise formula – which is welcome. One also gets the sense its inclusion may have something to do with Creed (2015) writer-director Ryan Coogler returning to contribute to the story, along with his brother Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin.
Technically, Creed III is the ninth film in the Rocky series, but it’s the first to not feature Sylvester Stallone’s fighter-from-the-Philadelphia-slums Rocky Balboa. Stallone’s down-to-earth presence is missed – Rocky’s name drop in the first trailer hasn’t made it to the theatrical cut – but his exclusion means that Creed III is wholly centred on Michael B Jordan’s Adonis Creed, the son of Rocky’s former rival (and later best friend) Apollo Creed.
While Adonis may be free from Rocky’s immense shadow in Creed III, the film is very much the Rocky III of the new series. As in 1982, our hero is forced to deal with a brutal new contender from the streets, who has a giant chip on his shoulder. Back in the day, this role was filled by Mr T’s Clubber Lang. Now it’s Jonathan Majors as Damian Anderson.
Set several years after the events of Creed II, Adonis has stepped away from the ring and is now mentoring a new generation of fighters at the gym that helped his father become Heavyweight Champion of the World. Adonis is professionally and personally successful, with wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) bringing much happiness to his life.
All of this is threatened, though, when Damian (Majors), a childhood friend of Adonis, appears after 18 years in prison.
A boxing prodigy in his youth, Damian is dead set on finally getting his shot at a title, and in doing so, he will dredge up dark moments from Adonis’s youth, and demolish his legacy. All this unless Adonis shaves off his softness, rediscovers his fighting fire, and faces Damian in the ring for the ultimate grudge match.
Nonsense plot contortions
With some nonsense plot contortions, such as a shortage of title fight contenders, the storyline plays out exactly as you would expect.
One of the major drawcards in Creed III is Jonathan Majors, riding high on acclaim for his work in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, where he portrays Kang the Conqueror, the next Big Bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Majors has an imposing physical presence in Creed III, and there’s no faulting his acting yet again, but his thuggish “Diamond Dame” seems to exist more as a foil for Adonis than a character in his own right. In one scene he’ll be musing on his lost opportunities, and the next he’s a moustache-twirling, monologuing villain.
Adonis is the star of the show, even though there is pleasing equality to the relationship between the boxer and Bianca. Thompson isn’t just floating on the periphery as a supportive wife; she has her own ongoing character arc, with ambitions and struggles.
Back to Jordan, though, who does well juggling both acting requirements and directing duties. Creed III is the 36-year-old’s directorial debut and it’s a solid first effort, delivering the crowd-pleasing goods with a few flashes of stylistic flair. It’s debatable whether those touches are necessary in the final fight though, given their eye-rolling obviousness, which becomes a distraction. Then again, they do help to give the film its own identity, even as it ticks boxes like the requisite overblown, unorthodox training montage. Have you ever pulled a plane as part of your workout?
In the end, Creed III replicates Adonis’s own journey away from the inherited reputation of, and comparison to, his father (Apollo) and surrogate father (Rocky). The film feels like it can stand as a contender in its own right thanks to a smattering of fresh inclusions, although it’s still working off a rigid blueprint. And that means Creed III concludes as it has to, not necessarily how it should, satisfying in the moment but not necessarily setting itself up to stand out in future memory. DM/ML
This story was first published on Pfangirl.com
Creed III is in cinemas.