|Content with life, Adonis Creed finds himself in the position to help an old friend that has suddenly reconnected, pitting his need for the reconciliation of his past in direct conflict with the status quo of his current circumstances.
|1 hour, 56 minutes
|March 3, 2023
|United Artists Releasing
|Michael B. Jordan
|Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin, Ryan Coogler
|Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the Rocky movies. I watched through the series when there were only five at the time, during a pivotal period of my life. They lifted me up when I was feeling down, and as a result I have very fond memories of them. Stallone’s personal story also resonated with me and became a source of inspiration. So there’s some sadness around the fact the franchise’s latest addition, Creed III, is the first without the legendary character, Rocky Balboa. Not only that, Stallone has recently stirred up controversy and remorse over his character’s exclusion; an act he has no official say in, considering he sold the rights to the character he created many years ago. It’s all a bit confusing considering many believed Rocky was retired as a character in the previous film. How does Creed III manage without Rocky’s involvement? Has the film succeeded in handing over the mantle?
Violence/Scary Images: The film revolves around the world of professional boxing, and therefore contains a number of fight scenes in the ring, where characters sometimes punch and injure each other. One character is unethical in their approach to the sport. Assault occurs a number of times, and once with a weapon. Characters are held at gun point. Some blood is shown as a result of physical injuries—light gore.
Language/Crude Humor: No f-bombs, but the s-word is infrequently said, along with lesser swears such as h*ll and d*mn. Some name calling.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters attend a number of parties and social events that serve alcohol. It is consumed but not to excess.
Sexual Content: A husband tries to cheekily persuade his wife for sex while she is busy working.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: The film portrays a number of crimes involving physical assault, although it’s always shown in a negative light. One character details a past where they were heavily bullied. Information is withheld from relevant parties. A character intentionally seeks to manipulate and hurt others.
Positive Content: The film explores a number themes, particularly the nature of forgiveness, the importance of setting boundaries, the need to resolve issues outside of a fight, and characters find the humility in accepting some of life’s limitations.
The original film that started it all, Rocky, was released in 1976, meaning this franchise has been around for almost half a century. Sorry if I just made you feel old. It’s rather apt when one of the sports commentators in Creed III makes the observation there’s a lot of history in the ring. It’s true—these characters have their pasts intertwined, where each film tends to echo and build upon the themes explored in previous instalments. It can be intimidating for newcomers, and some may wonder where they should begin.
Admittedly, Creed III isn’t so complicated that a newcomer wouldn’t be able to follow the basic storyline, however they would be cheating themselves out of a richer and deeper experience if they were to come in with no prior knowledge. Unfortunately, if they wish to make the most of it, there is a bit of homework involved. In order to understand Adonis “Donnie” Creed, you have to learn about his father’s (Apollo Creed) boxing career, and that all plays out in the first four Rocky films. Then you can skip to Creed and Creed II to follow Donnie’s journey. I do cringe a little at this advice only because Rocky Balboa is a phenomenal film that deserves a viewing.
Yet after watching Creed III, the one film I do want to revisit is actually Rocky V, which is commonly seen as the lame duck of the franchise. Donnie is now at the point where Rocky was in his career when the fifth film occurred, and there are only so many directions these movies in the sports subgenre can explore. Creed III feels like Rocky V done right. It’s not a remake, rather it’s just the movie that shares the most things in common with this latest release.
Opposite Adonis is Damian Anderson, played by Jonathan Majors (who is currently having a fantastic run with his acting career). In many ways, Damian has a lot in common with Rocky. Both showed promise as boxers in their youth, though due to various reasons, things never eventuated for them until they were given a chance. Yet Damian isn’t Rocky, and their personality and outlook on life couldn’t be any more different. Donnie once again finds himself in his father’s shadow, though he knows a new path must be forged, and for one of the first times in this franchise, the audience is given the impression that not everything can be resolved in the ring this time around.
It is somewhat reductive to call this a “sports movie”, partly because Rocky was the film that laid the groundwork for this subgenre in the first place. It’s never really about the boxing. Rather these films are strong male dramas disguised as a mere boxing movies. What has always been fantastic about this franchise is its portrayal of positive male role models. Donnie is a well-adjusted father that is thrown a curveball in life (as it tends to do), but he knows when to listen and learn from his support network in order to overcome his obstacles. Healthy working marriages that are tackling relatable issues are sadly rare to see in cinema, but in this franchise the central protagonist’s relationship is almost always given more screen time than the sport itself, contrary to the franchise’s reputation.
Creed III isn’t a shallow drama either. There are a number of layers occurring all at once, which is even more complex once you take on the historic weight of all the previous films as well. Since it would be rather hackneyed for yet another past character to have a son for Adonis to fight, this time the screenwriters have made the main conflict to be as personal as possible. With Donnie and Damian having their own unique history, when fate has these two characters reconnect later in life, it forces Donnie to confront not just his past, but also his feelings on their friendship. It’s a lesson in forgiveness, both for others and oneself, and boundaries. There’s a mental split in processing the past while also trying to come to terms with the present, and the film tries its hardest to visually represent that internal struggle. Creed III is possibly the most creative in the franchise in terms of its cinematography, although it does get a little too on the nose with its visual symbolism. Yet as overdone as some of these themes are, Christians in particular may find themselves having a lot in common with Adonis’ predicament. When the Bible encourages forgiveness and to “turn the other cheek”, the advice can be hard to navigate when the other party is disingenuous, manipulative, abusive or otherwise out to cause more harm. Discovering that nuanced boundary between being loving but not being a doormat is an important step in many people’s walk with Christ.
What’s great is that the supporting cast also have a life of their own—they don’t just revolve around the protagonist’s issues like an empty shelled NPC. Both Damian and Bianca struggle with coming to terms with settling on their life’s dreams. Little Duke and Felix are working on building a great career and reputation. Meanwhile Donnie’s daughter, Amara, is having difficulties in resolving conflicts with her peers in a healthy way. There’s a lot happening in this film and no doubt viewers will gravitate towards one thematic thread to mull over, however some don’t feel finished. The movie tries to parallel a few character arcs, such as Donnie’s and Amara’s, however it doesn’t quite achieve that task.
When it comes to Rocky, there are a few moments in the story where he could have come in. Those times when Donnie is feeling down as he tries to navigate his new circumstances, it does seem slightly odd that he doesn’t at the very least give Rocky a call. The character very easily could have played a mentor role, albeit only on a cameo level. That said, Creed II provided a very clean and satisfying exit for Rocky’s character, and it’s equally justifiable to not drag him back in just for the sake of it. It’s a shame that Stallone believes differently, but there must come a time when the mantle is passed should fans wish to see this franchise continue.
But should it continue? With some serious forethought and planning, there could be more stories to tell, although there are so many films in the franchise now that they will all inevitably tread on familiar ground. Adonis Creed is a good protagonist and actor Michael B. Jordan has the charisma to carry this old franchise on his shoulders.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Creed III and the previous two; they are strong, well-rounded films. Except Rocky just sticks in the cultural memory a little better. Rocky’s character is more emotionally vulnerable and therefore more intriguing to watch. Meanwhile Adonis, particularly in this film, is more on guard. There are a number of scenes where his character actively blocks the conversation from delving too deep, which has the unintended side effect in limiting the quality of the dialogue. The scripts just aren’t as good as a result.
The earlier Rocky films get downright dorky at times, but that cheese has an air of fun. The Creed films feel so much more serious and slick in comparison. They lack that quirky novelty. For instance, in each film, Rocky Balboa needs to work on something specific for his upcoming fight. In one movie it was his agility, in another it was about hitting hard. The iconic training montage which Rocky practically invented, would link in with that theme, and the audience would sometimes be treated with seeing something insane and out of the box in terms of strategy and bodybuilding. Creed III felt weak in this department. An issue is brought up which would impact the outcome in an upcoming fight, and there’s a hint of a solution, but it’s not reflected well in the montage, making one wonder why it was mentioned in the script at all. It leans heavier into the idea that there’s a battle of the minds, but let’s face it—it’s no Rocky training for Russia.
Creed III is ultimately a solid film and an above average drama, leaving room in the franchise for further growth in the future. Although it just doesn’t offer the same level of warmth as the ones that featured Rocky Balboa.
+ Layered drama
+ Deeply personal story
+ Well-developed supporting cast
+ Relatable themes
- Overdone symbolism
- Simplistic dialogue
- Missing the fun novelty found in past films
The Bottom Line
Creed III offers yet another competent entry into this long-running franchise, although it lacks some of the spark seen in a few of the earlier films.