Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky premiered almost 50 years ago and has become the gold standard of how to write a movie about, not just boxers, but any sporting movie.
When Adonis, illegitimate son of Apollo Creed was given his own film in 2015, Sylvester Stallone remained, taking Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) under his wing, and training him to be a boxer and have a chance to be a world champion. Stallone is now absent and Michael B. Jordan has taken the reigns as director as he leads Adonis Creed into a film without Rocky Balboa.
Despite growing up watching the Rocky film franchise, I wasn’t turned away knowing that Sly wouldn’t make an appearance, but I was interested to see how they’d go about it. In Creed, and in its sequel, Rocky never felt forced in the films but his presence was taking away from Adonis’ story.
The plot of Creed II was about Adonis stepping out of his father’s shadow and being a champion by his own right, but the bigger shadow of Rocky was still there. No matter what Adonis achieved, it still felt like a Rocky movie.
But Jordan has cemented Creed III as its own. Like others of the genre, the first scene is a fight, but it has been choreographed and directed in a completely unique way. This should stand as a huge compliment for Jordan because while there’s been so many fights put onto the screen Creed III has something that looks and feels unique right from the get-go from its opening shots.
In Creed III, Adonis has achieved everything he had dreamed of. He has cemented himself as a legitimate fighter, he has a loving family, and he is giving the same support to other young fighters with the help of his trainer, Little Duke (Wood Harris), the trainer that Rocky gave him. The thing is, no boxing movie is ever just about fighting. Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a childhood friend of Adonis who has been released from jail after almost two decades, comes to see Adonis almost immediately.
Before his prison sentence, Dame was a young Golden Gloves champion and Adonis was his corner man. Having a close relationship, the two were more like brothers. Now that Dame has been released, he wants to get back into the ring. Adonis takes a chance on his childhood friend, despite objections from Little Duke, and gives him the opportunity to show his worth as a fighter.
In his first outing as a director, Michael B. Jordan is already showing that he can generate wonderful performances from the actors in his film. Tessa Thompson returns as Bianca Creed, who, despite not being able to achieve her intended dream, stands strong and forges a new path for herself and isn’t regulated to being a Team Creed cheerleader. Thompson is so effective at developing Bianca past her disability and role as a mother of a disabled child.
A refreshing part of the script for Creed III was the idea of sharing parenting roles that other films would normally place solely on the maternal figure. As family is one of the main themes here, the performance of a child actor and their chemistry with the actors portraying their parents can make or break a film. Thankfully, Mila Davis-Kent is glorious on screen as Amara Creed. Jordan’s talent as an actor and director is shown again during the numerous times he has interactions with Davis-Kent. Because Amara is deaf, their dialogue is through sign language, and these scenes of interaction with father and daughter were standouts for me.
The one actor I couldn’t find any fault with is Jonathon Majors, who plays Dame with a confidence in his stride and a vulnerability that was visible in every frame he was in. Having such a complex character with a perfect performance from Majors, and still trying to make this film about Adonis is something Creed III struggles with at first. That is until it lets go of it being all about Adonis because his relationship with Dame is what helps him to grow as a character. The charisma and performance given by Majors did make it difficult to let the film lead me where they wanted to with his character. I still haven’t been able to fully comprehend his character’s journey and the role he had to play in the films conclusion.
Like all boxing films, the conclusion is the final match and Jordan has made this the best in the entire Creed franchise. In Creed II, I found the final fight to look like a movie fight. Too choreographed and the CGI was too much that even now it looks aged. But in Creed III, this final fight was something else entirely. The creative decision Jordan has taken for this is something I would see in a film clip for a Pink Floyd song, psychedelic and other worldly.
Like any good film maker, Jordan uses this as an opportunity to show and not tell. The conflict resolution is played out here, some of cuts used threw more emotional weight than any other moment in the film. And this scene is so much more than two men throwing punches at each other.
After some early uncertainty, I left feeling really happy by Creed III. I might have a Sylvester Stallone shaped hole in my heart, but I didn’t feel the need to watch Rocky straight away. Jordan has directed something that Stallone would love to see come from characters he created and something that can effectively stand alone and not be in the shadow of The Italian Stallion.
The heart in Creed III felt misplaced at times, too afraid to give it all to Adonis and his family but not brave enough for all characters to wear the villain hat. There were things missing here, moments where a drive to pave a way for Adonis as an individual meant moments for him to grow with others were abandoned so he could grow on his own.
Despite an uncertainty of direction and storylines not getting the attention they deserved, Creed III is still stunning and the cast, and direction from Michael B. Jordan help to make it more than just “A Rocky movie, without Rocky”.
Creed III is in cinemas from March 2.