Unlike most industries, the longevity of a film franchise or boxing career is far from an accurate measure of its quality.
In many cases, it’s the opposite. This usually comes in the form of a recognisable name being propped up by past glories, characterised by a tendency to only re-emerge when a big payday is on the horizon. While this is true of some of the Rocky franchise’s later entries, Michael B. Jordan’s ‘Creed III’ successfully manages to bob and weave it’s way through these pitfalls.
If Ryan Coogler’s original was a deep dive into the past of Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) past, Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut is an emotionally fulfilling page from the same playbook. Set against the backdrop of Dr Dre’s 1999 classic The Watcher, a richly-textured LA flashback introduces us to a young Adonis “Donny” playing pseudo-corner man for his brother in arms – prodigious boxing talent Damian “Dame” Anderson’ (Jonathan Majors). However, an unfortunate incident sees their journeys splinter off into different paths, with Dame drawing the short end of the stick.
Like a tumbleweed in the wind, Dame unceremoniously reappears, perched against Adonis’ Rolls Royce with a quiet sense of entitlement, a subtle, yet telling indication of what’s to come. After an uncomfortable exchange of pleasantries that can only be likened to meeting your girlfriend’s dad for the first time, the two sit down at a local diner for a catch-up, where it quickly becomes apparent that their differences far outweigh their similarities.
With his rebel spirit now pacified by family and success, retired champion-turned-promoter Adonis is unrecognisable from the loner audiences were introduced to in the franchise’s first instalment. Testament to Jordan’s directorial eye, the world around Adonis has never looked so warm or fleshed-out. This craftsmanship regularly offers up the film’s most heartfelt moments in the shape of Adonis’ marriage with Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and the normalised use of sign language to parent their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Contrastingly, the intervening years have not been so kind to Dame. The solitude of life behind bars have left him feral and with nothing to call his own, except a burning desire to become the heavyweight champion – a goal that Adonis feels obliged to help him reach.
Jonathan Majors is a star turn as the musclebound manifestation of survivor’s guilt, stealing scenes at will with irrestable magnetism whilst looking every bit as imperious as Mike Tyson in ‘88. Despite being the first Rocky-less Rocky film, it manages to summon the same palpable tension (perhaps drawn out for too long), before the eventual showdown between Adonis and Dame.
In the past it has been easy to root against Adonis’ adversaries, but Creed III does an excellent job of making the decision less clear cut. Far from a redemption story, Dame’s is a brutal course correction. As he makes clear early on, he’s ‘not looking for a handout’, he wants the life that Adonis stole from him. And who can blame him?
After nearly 50 years – and a tale of the tape consisting of fights against Mr T and Hulk Hogan – there aren’t many punches left that the Rocky-franchise hasn’t thrown yet. Refreshingly, Jordan’s gutsy spin-off manages to string together an impressive anime-infused combination of heart and revitalised ring action, proving this fighter’s still got more rounds in him yet.
Creed III is in cinemas Friday 3rd March