Sentiment probably has no place in the tough-nut sport of boxing, but I look back fondly on my trip to see Rocky III at my local Odeon when I was 13. In hindsight, Rocky III maybe isn’t the rich cinematic classic that I felt it was at the time, but it was a big, commercial package that was delivered with a punch; Sly Stallone, a big star in the role that made him, but with bonuses including Hulk Hogan, Burgess Meredith, Mr T, and one of THE great training tunes of all time, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger. Alas, none of these precious ingredients are featured in Rocky 9, or Creed III as it would prefer to be known, with Rocky now only mentioned in dialogue, but Michael B Jordan’s earnest sports drama has other things on its mind; namely how to avoid treading water.
It’s no secret Stallone has fallen out with producer Irvin Winkler, who bought the rights for the embryonic Rocky franchise for $100 before it hit big; as a result, Rocky Balboa, a significant mentoring presence in the first two Creed films, is not seen at all, and his unexplained absence leaves a gap. Instead, we focus on Adonis Creed (Jordan, also directing), who retires at the top of his profession, and lives happily with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) until old mucker Dame Anderson (Jonathan Majors) appears looking for a shot at the world championship title. Dame has a history with Creed, and has been in the slammer as the result of their early-days juvenile delinquency, but although Dame’s never had a professional fight, Creed sorts it out for Dame to get a big-money chance at the world title for his very first fight because that’s totally how boxing works in the movies.
Majors is the big draw here; he was great in Devotion, and while I’m yet to check out his Kang in the hotly anticipated Ant Man 3, I suspect he’ll be good in that too; he makes something unexpectedly interesting out of Dame’s desperate ambition, a self-empowerment kick which rubs Creed up the wrong way. The absence of Rocky, however, is a problem in a endlessly backwards-looking franchise where Apollo Creed’s sainted shorts were previously displayed as a signifigant artifact like the Turin Shroud. Rocky’s death was presumably scheduled, but since Stallone might make up with Winkler and there’s no point in closing off a potential income stream, we quickly shuffle in Creed’s mom to promptly pop her clogs as a like-for-like substitution, providing an excuse for yet another big-shades and smart-suits funeral.
Such emotional low points are, in a Rocky universe film, only there to be bounced back from, and we head for the final countdown with a drab training montage, a protracted bout, and, spoilers I guess, Creed triumphant. Jordan drops a clanger in his final action scene by revealing the green-screen-ness of the staging; the crowd vanish as elements like a prison door appear in the ring, a gamble by the director to utilise Cagliari-like expressionist staging, but one that doesn’t pay off. With none of the bells and whistles of the first Creed, this is a sombre but perfunctory continuation of the Creed saga into the era of cannabis-flavour energy drinks; there’s precious little forward motion other than Majors’ acting prowess. The element of humour is sorely missing; sure, the Rocky films got cheesy, but Creed III’s motivational lectures are so po-faced as to be stultifying rather than inspiring. Those of us keen to see Clubber Lang’s son fight Hulk Hogan’s son will have to look elsewhere; for now, the middling, compromised interstitial of Creed III will have do.
I didn’t miss Stallone here, oddly enough. His presence would have got in the way, surely it was time for him to die, so only there for the big emotional scene and one final payday. But Rocky has way outstayed his welcome and I was happy for him to be retired sight unseen. The film was kind of okay, but I felt it was teeing up Creed IV as a female boxing angle. And there’s only so many times you can bring out secrets hidden from the opening Creed. Fyi the Polish film was a bust – I expected a thriller and got a turgid romance, but Champions was mighty.
Cheed III is just Ok, but I didn’t fancy the female boxing thing; too much world-building. The usual lights, muscles and car doors slamming, glad to see it making money, but laws of diminishing returns apply dramatically. Keen to see Champions for myself…
Hope you enjoy it as much as me.
I’ll probably see this on Monday regardless. Got an interesting triple bill lined up – this, Champions and a Polish picture Heaven in Hell.
That is a mix indeed.
Being from in and around Philadelphia, it has been almost a pre-requisite to follow the Rocky part of this never-ending saga, but I tapped out from seeing any of the Creed films. I’m not sure we needed any more films in this “universe” after the O.G. Rocky, but I do have a feeling they’ll now be made until the apocalypse. And, maybe even after that…
Actually the first three Rocky films are a fairly standard trilogy, but they kept coming back for one more…
I saw the first Rocky, that was good. None of the others and won’t be doing this either. Nope.
First three make a good trilogy. But it’s been up and down to follow.
On a less frivolous note, though I haven’t seen this (and likely never will), I have a hard time believing at this stage of his career and this late in the franchise that Stallone’s presence could have helped. I was sort of hoping he’d hung up his gloves for good.
He’s busy enough, Samaritan last year, Tulsa King now, and clearly wanted to be involved. But after two entries in Creed where Rocky was a mentor figure, it’s jarring to have him barely mentioned now. I can see why they want Creed to be his own thing, but it’s a slavish copy of a Rocky movie anyway…
So, were there any characters who they could spin off into yet another sub-series?
I wonder how old Mr T and Hulk Hogan’s kids would be now. They should totally make a movie called Rokky, all about rocky road icecream 🙂
I think there’s a Drago tv show mooted. Stallone wanted Clubber Lang’s kid in this one, but that idea didn’t seem to play…
Well, as long as great movies like this are still being made, I think your fears of cinema dying can be put to rest 😉
Agreed. Something for everyone here.
Sorry, I was being sarcastic.
Unless you’re also being sarcastic?
dang, definitely not on my A Game this morning….
Always appreciate your comments…
I caught that one…..
That was from the heart!
And that’s a BoBa FaCt!
I’m having trouble figuring what this is about from your review. Two guys punching each other?
Sigh. I’m trying to bring things to a level that you can understand. This film was about boxing.
Boxing Day? That was a couple of months ago.
Every day is Boxing Day in the Rocky universe.