Where its two predecessors feel like extensions of the Rocky universe, Creed III is the first time this spinoff series has struck out on its own. After Creed II resolved lingering grudges and laid the legacy of Rocky Balboa to rest, this threequel zeroes in on Adonis Creed’s own past – with mixed results.
Now directed by its star Michael B Jordan, the series swaps Philly for LA, where the newly-retired Adonis Creed (Jordan) and his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) live with their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). But his triumphant retirement is soon disrupted by the return of Damian ‘Dame’ Anderson (Ant-Man 3’s Jonathan Majors), a surrogate older brother from foster care with boxing dreams of his own. The charismatic Majors is a brooding highlight here, offering an angry challenge to Adonis’s life of relative comfort.
But Creed III’s most interesting ideas – around this class divide and Adonis's inability to communicate past pain – feel rushed. And that introspection is short-lived anyway, as problems get solved the ‘old-fashioned way’, sliding the movie back into more formulaic terrain.
Even so, the old-fashioned way – mano a mano – is enjoyable enough (look out for the obligatory but still-satisfying training montage). The fights emulate the prowling style of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, while adding new visual flourishes, like extreme close-ups from Creed’s perspective as he finds his opponent’s Achilles’ heel. And Jordan’s well-documented passion for anime is felt both in the film’s story of former brothers turned rivals, and its imagery: from the fights and training montages echoing Ashita no Joe and Dragon Ball Z, to the Lupin III posters in young Adonis’s room.
There’s still enough heart and excitement in the familiar sports-movie thrills
The resultant melodrama is entertaining, though not all of its visual swings land. One shot blacks out the roaring crowd as the fight becomes more intimate, but it rings false rather than evocative. But Jordan finds other compelling ways to draw the line between the pageantry of boxing and the personal stake in this rivalry: vivid and grainy flashback sequences brush up against the digital sheen of the present day.
Creed III is much more sure-footed in presenting a fascinating emotional struggle for its title character as well as a physical one, even if it ends up diminishing its most subversive plot threads. There’s enough excitement and heart in its familiar pleasures and fresher twists on the franchise’s sports-movie thrills, showing that it has plenty of fight in it even without the rehashed Rocky myths.
In cinemas worldwide Mar 3