I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Sylvester Stallone.
The Italian Stallion is nowhere to be found in Creed III, the latest installment in the Rocky spinoff series. Although he has a producer credit, the man who came up with the whole damn franchise has distanced himself from this sequel, even saying that he won’t see this one and won’t be in any future Creed films if longtime Rocky producer Irwin Winkler is still involved.
It’s certainly an elephant in the room that’s never addressed in this film – not even a “I wish Rock was here” from Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who also directed), as he spends most of the movie going through a whole lotta stuff the elder Balboa could’ve given him some I’ve-been-there advice on. (That’s partially provided in this film by former The Wire baddie Wood Harris, returning as disapproving corner man Tony “Little Duke” Evers.) After all, just as Balboa dealt with the angry, egotistical, career-obliterating ex-con Clubber Lang (still Mr. T’s finest hour) in Rocky III, Creed also goes up against an angry, egotistical, career-obliterating ex-con. But, this time, the opponent is – to paraphrase the title of the last movie I reviewed on this site – someone Creed used to know.
Mere weeks after Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Jonathan Majors shows up again as the Big Bad in the third volume of another box office franchise. He’s Damian “Dame” Anderson, an amateur boxer and former juvenile detention center buddy of Creed’s. He just got out of prison and comes to his ol’ retired friend looking for a shot to be a contenda. It turns out that Creed owes his buddy a lot; that jail stint came from Creed straight beating down a juvie employee who used to put the hurtin’ on them and running away when the cops caught him and an armed Dame. (While it’s implied that the guy may have done more than beat them, the movie doesn’t go full Sleepers.)
Yes, Creed III is basically a film where two hella-shredded Black men who were once, literally, thick as thieves become bitter rivals. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before – and Jordan gives us another one. Working from a script strung together by Creed director Ryan Coogler, his brother Keegan, and King Richard screenwriter Zach Baylin, Jordan follows in his former co-star’s footsteps and gives us a rousing yet narratively mid crowd-pleaser where the star/director has to put a badass threat in his place. As much as Majors tries to give his pissed-off antagonist some justified gravitas, the chip Jordan and the screenwriters place on his character’s shoulders does most of the acting for him. It isn’t long before Dame wins his first championship and becomes a straight-up asshole Creed has to come out of retirement to set straight.
Oh yeah, Tessa Thompson is also around as Creed’s musical boo, also wondering if she should step from her behind-the-scenes duties and step back in the spotlight. They also have a little, hearing-impaired girl who likes to fight. And let’s not forget Phylicia Rashad – Clair Huxtable herself – is still here, causing more harm than good as Creed’s mom.
If anything, Creed III has Jordan showing us he can be like Stallone and direct a fancy, fisticuffs-filled vanity project. Creed’s fight sequences are splacked-out, visually wacky spectacles; his opening battle has him getting his Robert Downey, Jr.-as-Sherlock Holmes on and pinpointing how he’s gonna take out an opponent before it happens. Of course, when we get to Creed and Dame’s climactic, sharply-orchestrated one-on-one, it’s a hallucinogenic throwdown where everything from prison bars to dirty juvie mattresses pop up.
With Creed III, Jordan does go all out in proving he can give audiences a sufficient fight movie. But, just like all the Rocky pictures Stallone directed, it’s mostly a mighty, mediocre show.
“Creed III” is in theaters Friday.