Arguably the most impressive aspect about the “Creed” section of what no one calls the “Rocky-verse” is that it’s now got to a point that the story of the rise of Adonis Creed is strong enough to stand on it’s own without the need for an appearance from Sylvester Stallone’s mumbling pugilist at all. However, even though the Itallian Stallion is a no-show, the influence of Stallone is keenly felt with star Michael B. Jordan following in his footsteps and actually directing an installment himself – for the record, Stallone directed four of his Rocky movies.
But does Jordan prove to be as proficient behind the camera as his alter ego is inside the ring as he has to juggle the usual spectacular boxing pyrotechnics and emotional melodramatics that a Creed/Rocky movie demands?
Only one way to find out, so lace up those gloves – it’s time for round three.
We rejoin Adonis Creed as he finishes up his legacy building career by successfully defending his title against “Pretty” Ricky Conlan in a rematch from the finale of the first movie and then announcing his retirement. Three years later and Donnie has focused his time by being a husband to musician wife Bianca and their deaf daughter Amara while running a boxing academy that’s managed to produce the current world champion whom he promotes – simply put, life is good.
However, in the world of Creeds and Balboas, nothing is allowed to be good for particularly and up from the dark recesses of Donnie’s past comes Damian “Dame” Anderson, a close friend and boxing progeny whom he came up through the streets with but who ended up doing some serious time. Naturally, Donnie wants to aid his former friend and get him back on his feet, but there’s something off about the deal – due to the altercation that landed Dame in jail in the first place, Donnie seems to be acting out of guilt and those close to him worry that his childhood buddy is playing on that in order to get what he wants: a thoroughly unearned shortcut to a shot at the world’s title.
Due to a string of occurrences, Dame actually gets a crack at the belt and it’s here that his true colours start to show themselves as all the pent up frustration of his lengthy incarceration reveal themselves with some stunningly underhanded tactics. However, despite all this, Donnie still feels like he owes this dude the world, chiefly because he’s one of those guys who bottles everything up and doesn’t share things no matter how hard Bianca tries to get him to purge his past. As events spiral and Dame starts aggressively claiming everything he feels he’s owed, it seems, in true boxing movie fashion, that shit needs to get sorted in the ring – but Adonis has around three years worth of ring rust to shake off before he can even things about touching gloves with his old frenemy. Can even a trusty training montage set things right before the fists start flying?
As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, nothing gets my cinematic juices flowing more than a Rocky/Creed movie, which is fairly bizarre when you take into account the fact that I take to sports like an octopus takes to public speaking. The melodrama, coupled with the montages and boxing sequences, always has me staring, marbled-eyed, at the screen as I inadvertently duck and weave as the final round gets underway and thankfully, actor/director Michael B. Jordan seems to understand this too. Fully mindful that that to try and reinvent this particular wheel would be about as welcomed as the Fast And Furious guys taking the bus, Jordan sticks to the basics, cleanly laying out the current status quo of these familiar characters with logically clean lines. The reason that Creed III plays to the sports movie stereotype is simple – the aforementioned lack of Stallone as the franchise finally ages past the antics of his loveable legend. But it’s a necessary step to take as the series focuses fully on the Creed clan, taking in Bianca’s attempts to get her husband to open up and free his demons while they both raise their adorably precocious daughter as she deals with school problems with her fists. It all works and the spirit of Balboa still lurks over everything, even if you feel a phone call or two from the big lug may have been warranted when things get extra dark. But the script finds nice little footholds to discover nice little echoes to the past and future – if the series doesn’t eventually see young Amara grow up and step between the ropes herself, then they’ve missed a staggering obvious route to keep the franchise constantly evolving. Elsewhere, the three-quel gets great mileage from Jonathan Majors, still fresh from terrorizing Ant-Man and plowing his talents into yet another fascinating and deeply controlled antagonist as Dame’s story could be seen as a weird, perversion of Rocky’s own rags to riches rise to glory wkth his random title shot bestowed on his fighting unknown. Featuring some impressive guilt tripping and gas lighting to go with his frankly terrifyingly physique (his pecs frankly look like melons sewn under the skin of his chest) and a penchant to cheating in the ring, Majors probably stands out as the most fleshed out of Creed’s snarling opponents to date, even if his story admittedly ends a little too clean.
However, when it comes to the two things a Creed movie needs to do to win on points, Creed III definately has the judges on side as its sense of legacy (numerous previous opponents pop up to enrich the Creed-verse) is only bettered by those all-important in-ring scraps.
Jordan, blatantly drawing on his love of anime, favours close choreography as his tank-like fighters duck, weave and absorb blows in single takes that thrillingly show off their lightning fast reflexes with misses seemingly only screeching centimetres short of the screen. He also employs some visual metaphors as the crowd melts away to have the the locked in opponents imagine jail bars and dusty gym surrounding enveloping them as these two, oily, human, punch-monsters lose sense of time and it keeps things visually arresting as the roar of the crowd and the exclamations of the boxing commentators fill out the story.
It’s not perfect by any means; Tessa Thompson’s Bianca falls into the thanklessly bland, advice spewing pit Talia Shire’s Adrian never really managed to crawl out from, some of the leaps of story feel a little clumsy and inorganic and it isn’t particularly original; but when that final bell rings, Jordan and co. can rest assured that they’ve successfully managed to cross the threshold and make Creed stand on his own two feet.
In fact, you could say they’re boxing clever…