Creed 3 review: Not so rocky without Rocky

Jordan taking over the direction from Stallone is indeed a way of passing the torch


The hit spin-off of the Rocky franchise is back for round 3, with Michael B. Jordan reprising his role as champion boxer Adonis Creed. Jordan also put on the director’s hat for this flick – the first time. The ninth instalment of the Rocky series is visually pleasing, which somehow makes up for the lacklustre narrative. But what the movie does achieve is a new dynamic, setting it apart from the repetitiveness of the earlier ones.

Creed’s major hurdle was to step out of the shadows of his mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his father Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Creed 3 does it.

In fact, it is the first movie in the franchise without Stallone.

Jordan doesn’t modify the format, but like any commendable sports movie protagonist, he portrays how he had a thirst to quench; that he’d had been mulling over the ideas on how to make one of these movies for the past eight years. Jordan’s co-star Jonathan Majors spoke about how Jordan had made him formulate the persona of Diamond Dame by watching anime. One can easily discern that Jordan had a vision. There are obvious influences from anime shows like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto. Jordan feels like he’s directing his own movie, rather than “a Rocky movie”, and that is another crucial distinction.

Speaking of Majors, whose career has taken him from The Last Black Man In San Francisco to Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. He’s an electrifying presence, with one of those effortlessly expressive faces that you cannot help searching for an underlying meaning, quite like observing renaissance art.

Creed 3 paints a picture of Donnie’s wealthy post-boxing lifestyle. He lives in an exquisite mansion, where his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), produces music in her private studio, and similarly nurtures upcoming artistes rather than performing onstage herself, though her career choices weren’t entirely in her control. (Bianca’s hearing loss, established in Creed and the sequel, has worsened.)

The backbone of Creed 3 is the fact that it stars a bunch of people who are interesting to look at, even when they aren’t doing much. Majors joins Thompson and Jordan, and with Stallone gone (his absence is neither addressed nor explained in the film), there’s room for even more of Wood Harris—as Creed’s trainer, Duke.

“Diamond” Damian Anderson was once like a brother to Adonis “Donnie” Creed. They grew up together in a violent group home. Before Donnie was adopted by Apollo’s widow Mary-Anne and became a securities broker, to then quit to become a boxer and eventually become a champion, we learn of the history and connection between the two: Donnie’s mentor in both boxing and life. Then Damian got incarcerated for 18 years, presumably shadow-boxing the walls around him and cursing his bad luck while Donnie was being crowned a champion. But now that Damian’s out, he’s trying to make up for the time he has lost. At first Donnie helps him, out of guilt, whose origins will become clear much later, but there’s always a sense of thanklessness and an undertone of menace with which Damian accepts Donnie’s help.

But what’s challenging about Creed 3 is the way Adonis’s rage colours even his most seemingly gentle and caring moments as Amara’s father. The Creed series began with the question of what Adonis inherited from his father, and what these films inherited from the Rocky franchise. But three movies in, the cynosure has pivoted to what Adonis himself will pass on, and what the Creed movies stand for outside of Rocky’s shadow. The story is about violence as a medium that stifles true expression and reunion, and as a character trait that Adonis has to be careful about when training his daughter in self-defence.

Although several opportunities present themselves for an emotionally charged scene between Adonis and Mary Anne, what we get whizzes by too quickly in a mechanical way, not leaving the depth we expect.

The movie's fighting frames are constructed as though it were in a specific mode of manga or anime where the action is intertwined with the character drama that it’s as if they’re almost inseparable.

Jordan and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau zoom in on the fighters’ body parts to emphasise the confrontation. (There are several anime-type close-ups of sharp glowering eyes.) They warp the fabric of action scenes around the characters, shaking the frame and blurring the focus during intense movement accustomed to stylised anime fights.

Jordan taking over the direction from Stallone is indeed a way of passing the torch and moving forward, as Jordan works to sever ties with the Rocky series in Creed 3.

The movie’s tale of glory and riches, of facing retirement, of bottled-up emotions, and of dealing with open wounds head on, is all completely distinct from Rocky’s sequels . Creed 3 instead roots these themes in the specifics of Black Americans and their experiences within unforgiving systems.

Over the course of the original series, Rocky’s biggest enemy was time, and the unpredictable shape of his future. Adonis’s villain has always been the past, and the ways they chain him in the present. The way Jordan addresses it in Creed 3 makes it as definitive a chapter as the character’s fierce initial appearance. If Jordan continues working behind the camera, another stop or two with these characters and their story would be much awaited.

Film: Creed 3

Director: Michael B. Jordan

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad and others

Rating: 4/5


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