Let’s talk about Creed III.
It feels like Creed III has landed at the worst possible time for itself. Not because the last big boxing match was between a champion’s younger brother and a YouTuber, because of Twitter discourse. Recently, social media has decided to rain hatred onto nepo babies. This isn’t the classic criticism of nepotism you know, the one where parents give their kids high flying jobs in their own company, but of a different type. It’s more when you see a person claim they have done brilliantly off the work they’ve done, but then you find out afterwards they have a very successful and influential family. Even if technically their parents haven’t done anything to help them, the criticism is that having the safety net of rich parents allows them to take more risks like long unpaid internships and of course, other people trying to impress and gain favour with their parents, them being blind to having that advantage is what has caused so much anger.
Adonis Creed, the lead character of this franchise, is a nepo baby. Yes, the first film was about him not having Apollo around to be a good father and then him working to make sure he’s recognised in his own right and not just as his father’s son. Heck, he uses a different name for much of the film so he doesn’t get judged by his father’s standards. But, he gets a lot of advantages because of who his father is. He gets his coach, Rocky Balboa, because of it and the public watch his fights because of where he comes from. He gets him his big fights and he even uses his father’s iconography. All of his hard work and willingness to be more than just the latest Creed is what makes him likable but since the first two films, Twitter has decided they hate people like Adonis and so this film may struggle to connect with an audience this time around.
It probably won’t help that the rival/villain is a mirror image of Adonis if he didn’t have the privilege of his name to fall back on. This time, it’s Damien, a friend from Adonis’ youth. The difference is that when Adonis was able to run away from a crime they both committed, Damien wasn’t and he was sent to prison where he’d stay for almost 20 years. While Adonis was winning boxing matches, becoming champion and dating Tessa Thompson, he was doing hard time. He’s got a massive chip on his shoulder but let’s be honest, most people would have one if they went to prison for a very long time while their best friend abandoned him to it while becoming a massive success.
This is part of the Creed franchise trying to tackle it’s biggest problem, a lack of a memorable rival. The first Creed film kind of forgot about having a big rival because it wanted to concentrate on the story between Adonis and Rocky, so they just drafted an actual boxer in to serve as the big fight at the end. In the second film, they leaned on Rocky nostalgia and had Ivan Drago’s son be the main villain, meaning you ended up thinking more about an older Dolph Lundgren than any actual feud. With this film, they want to move out of Rocky’s shadow just in the same way Adonis has moved out of Apollo’s shadow. Remember, this is the first film of this entire franchise not to have Sylvester Stallone or any of the characters from the original film. Added to that, this is a villain entirely of the movie’s own creation. It’s not the son of Clubber Lang or Thunderlips’ personal assistant’s nephew, he’s entirely original to this movie.
And he’s the best part of the movie as well. If you’ve seen Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, you definitely have got some strong opinions. But one of them will be that Jonathan Majors was brilliant and you can’t wait to see more of him. Well here comes Creed III just a few weeks later, with Majors once again as the villain. And he’s just as brilliant here. This is a very different type of villain to Kang the Conqueror. In that movie, he was cool, calm and collected until driven to anger when things start going wrong. But even then, he still seemed in control. Damien is not in control. He just has an objective and anger dwelling deep inside his soul and he doesn’t care what happens to anyone else until he becomes the champion he would have been if he hadn’t have ended up in jail. And this contrasts nicely with Adonis, who is a very thoughtful man. He feels very guilty about what happened to Damien and the fact he has prospered while he suffered. There’s definitely some imposter syndrome going on as it’s detailed early on that it was Damien who seemed set for super stardom. It’s this complicated relationship which creates some incredible drama and it gets you so invested in all of it.
Much like the Rocky franchise before it, the main star is now also in the director’s chair. Yes, Michael B. Jordan makes his directorial debut with this movie and he has some talent. The fights look as brilliant as ever and continue to have the intensity which makes them interesting even for people who aren’t sure what a Tyson Fury is. I particularly like in the first fight, a rematch with whatever the Tony Bellew character is called, how he uses slow motion to show how Adonis realises where his opening is and how he was going to win the fight. Of course because this is the first time he’s in the chair, there are some problems which are classic first film errors. Jordan likes his symbolism and he is determined to make sure you see he’s done some symbolism. This sort of thing should be subtext, something you don’t notice right away but are rewarded with when you watch again. It shouldn’t be something slammed under your nose right from the off. Jordan has a lot of talent as a film maker, this movie proves it, but there are some growing pains.
The film also falls foul of the formula it has to hit to be a true Rocky/Creed movie. Of course, the formula that leads us to a mega montage of the two rivals training before the big fight? Love that, give me more of that. This franchise is all about the montages. But the sort of formula which needs to force some sort of tragedy to make sure we have some big motivation before the final fight that’s more than just ‘win the God damn fight’ is what I’m a bit sick of. This seems to happen in not just every Rocky/Creed film but also every boxing movie and it’s a very tired trope that needs to be retired. I also think the final third of the movie is a but rushed. I imagine the studio insisted that this film had to be under two hours, and building that final fight a bit more to give it more stakes was the thing that was sacrificed in order to make sure the relationship had the set up in the first two thirds.
By Rocky III, you could start to see the strain on a franchise that probably should have thought about wrapping sooner than it actually did. Creed III shows no such strain. This is still a series that feels like it has far more stories to tell and one that is just starting to show off its own identity rather than just rely on what has come before. Yes, this movie like it’s lead character is a nepo baby that would not have had nearly the same success as if it had to stand on its own. But it is a nepo baby that is now doing its own thing and is very impressive in its own right so while you might not be happy with how it got to be so good, you have to respect what it brings to the table.