Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 21, 2023)
When the notion of a movie focused on the hitherto-unknown “illegitimate” son of Apollo from the Rocky franchise materialized in 2015, many scoffed and reflected on Hollywood’s alleged creative bankruptcy. However, Creed received positive reviews and turned a decent profit so those early reactions quickly dissipated.
2018’s Creed II did even better at the box office. Inevitably, that led to 2023’s Creed III.
Heavyweight boxing champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) retires to spend more time with wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Adonis doesn’t completely leave the ring behind, though, as he runs a training academy and promotes promising fighters.
Into this setting steps Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), Adonis’s childhood friend who spent years in prison due to a violent incident that Adonis triggered but for which Creed suffered no consequences. Once a promising pugilist, Damian expects payback and demands that Adonis help him attain his lifelong dream of boxing fame.
Despite the improbable nature of this notion, Adonis feels guilty that Damian went to jail and he escaped unpunished. What starts as a friendly relationship soon turns sour, though, as the old friends find themselves as bitter foes.
When I go into each Creed movie, I always want to like them. Even though most of the Rocky flicks were mediocre or worse, I maintain some affection toward that franchise, and this extends to the Creed series as well.
However, the first two Creed flicks didn’t do much for me. The first one offered a moderately enjoyable drama but it also functioned as little more than a remake of the original Rocky, a factor that made it less than inspiring.
With Creed II, the series took Rocky IV as its inspiration. This meant Adonis fought Viktor Drago, the son of Rocky’s old Russian nemesis Ivan Drago.
This decision seemed cheesy – and still does – though the Drago parts of the film actually fared surprisingly well. These brought C2 its most emotional moments.
Our time with the title character seemed less involving, and that leads to my main problem with the Creed franchise: Adonis. As mentioned, that role never existed in the Rocky universe, and the first two films failed to develop him as anything other than an alternate version of Rocky.
With C3, we theoretically get expansion of the Adonis backstory that should add complexity. Instead, the film simply indulges in fairly stale melodrama.
Again, I simply fail to find much about Adonis that turns him into an engaging character. Despite Jordan’s talents and charisma, the role remains flat and without much real depth.
Since C2 fared best when it focused on its antagonist’s tale, I hoped that perhaps Damian’s narrative would elevate the film. Alas, it becomes another problem.
This stems from the cliché character arc Damian follows – and the ridiculous elements along the way. In what universe can a 30-something dude with no professional record get a shot at the boxing big time?
Yeah, C3 attempts to justify the ridiculous notion that Damian can emerge from prison and almost immediately get a title shot with allusions to Rocky’s path. However, not only does this choice feel stale, it also becomes even more ridiculous than it sounds.
Rocky might’ve been a “ham-and-egger”, but at least he fought the pro circuit. Damian just comes out of nowhere – unless you want to count his success half his lifetime earlier.
I might not object to this absurd plot choice if C3 didn’t make the ill-advised choice to turn Damian into a stock movie villain. When we meet adult Damian, he seems naïve but endearing and likable.
However, the movie eventually decides to fully alter the character and make him act like a sociopath. We lose all sympathy for Damian along the way.
C3 pursues this path because it wants a clear-cut audience choice when Damian and Adonis inevitably meet in the ring. The movie can’t less us feel torn: we must want Adonis to take down his childhood pal.
Why not allow complexity and force the audience to choose? Give the movie an added layer of torn sympathy and maybe the movie works.
Instead, with a Damian who suddenly turns nasty and one-dimensional, we end up fully on Adonis’s side. He doesn’t really earn this allegiance, though, as we theoretically root for him.
Emphasis on “theoretically”, as I just don’t care enough about Adonis to worry whether he wins or loses. Throw in plenty of added cheap melodrama via the tacked on subplots and Creed III becomes a less than enthralling journey.