By Thomas Cathey | Special to The OBSERVER
It appeared nothing more could be done with the “Rocky” franchise and character after 2006’s “Rocky Balboa,” as likely nobody would entertain the idea of a 70-year-old retiree returning to the ring. But nine years later, the “Creed” saga jump-started the universe and became successful enough to spawn two sequels.
“Creed III” is directed by and stars Michael B. Jordan and is co-written by Sacramento State alumnus Ryan Coogler, who wrote and directed the original “Creed” film. The plot centers around former heavyweight boxing champion Adonis Creed, recently retired from the ring to preserve his health and spend more time with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their young child. But when a childhood friend and former amateur boxing standout (Jonathan Majors) reenters the picture after an 18-year prison stint, Adonis is spurred back into the squared circle once again.
Both previous “Creed” films were generally well-received among fans and critics. The first movie earned a Rotten Tomatoes score of 95%, while the sequel earned a score of 83%. What likely made those films successful, besides being attached to the “Rocky” film universe, is that they have a simple but entertaining and emotionally satisfying premise that’s easy for audiences to get behind. The fight and training montage scenes are intense and immaculate, but both films spent ample time emotionally developing the characters and Adonis’ relationships with Bianca and his legendary trainer Rocky Balboa.
The trilogy film, which officially released March 3, hits a lot of the same beats. However, throughout the nearly two-hour runtime, many viewers will likely notice the giant elephant in the room: the unmistakable absence of Rocky Balboa, who hardly is mentioned or referenced in the story.
Sylvester Stallone has been on record about his falling out with Michael B. Jordan and the studio over creative differences about the trilogy film, which was the reason for his absence. Despite that, Jordan’s directorial debut indeed proves this franchise can stand on its own.
In addition to further flushing out Adonis’ relationships with his wife and mother, the story introduces viewers to his daughter, Amara (Mila-Davis Kent), who also takes an interest in boxing. One caveat, though, is that she inherited hearing impairment from her mother, which adds an interesting layer to the Creeds’ family life.
But most important, is the feud between Adonis and Jonathan Majors’ character, “Diamond Dame” Anderson. Unlike the other “Creed” and “Rocky” films, the protagonist and antagonist have a shared past and friendship. Their relationship is filled with admiration and respect, but also with envy, adding to the entertainment value and emotional fulfillment of their eventual championship showdown at Dodger Stadium.
Boxing fans get their share of service with cameos by boxing stars Terence Crawford, Jose Benevidez, Tony Bellew and Canelo Alvarez, among other prominent boxing figures.
“Creed III” isn’t necessarily remarkable, but it still provides the intensity, style and emotional payoff that the other installments deliver on, which makes it well worth the time and money.