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MOVIES: Creed III - Review

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Creed III represents what many entries this late into a sequel series are afraid of: change. For the first time in a Rocky or Creed movie, its lead star, Sylvester Stallone, isn’t present – with solitary duties falling to Michael B. Jordan both in front and behind the camera, in a move straight out of Stallone’s playbook himself – this is the kind of autocracy that he’d pull back in the day on both his pet franchises. Now Jordan is in the reigns; and Creed III represents one of the strongest franchise debuts for a new director – fully confident and assured in the way that few are tackling a project of this magnitude.

We’re now approaching the end of Adonis Creed’s career – he’s rapidly transitioning into retirement and a way away from the boxing field, his last match is a showdown against his first opponent in Creed, Ricky Conlan – and he’s able to defeat him. But it’s not long before Jonathan Majors’ Damien Anderson, former boxing prodigy and childhood friend, emerges from the spotlight to take over the mantle, believing that he’s been denied a shot and Creed has taken his career from him. With a chip on his shoulder, Dame is bloody, brutal and fierce – wounding Creed’s prodigies and forcing a one on one fight.

The anime aesthetic in this film is clear – Jordan’s influence behind the camera is everywhere. The fight sequences are anime-like, entirely removed from the previous wide camera range of Creed II in favour of a stripped down, more personal approach. This benefits the clean break of the franchise, it’s clear that Jordan is trying to do his own thing and make the franchise his own - and boy has he succeeded. The visuals, particularly in the pre-match scenes between Dame and Adonis, are colourful, a real treat – and the cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau is excellent with some wonderful usage of lighting. The camera zooms in for close-ups even when the characters aren’t fighting – a simple diner scene gets inside both of their heads. They were like brothers. Now – they’re going for each other as the stakes are raised – and Dame calls Creed out for everything that he’s not. Baiting him – goading him.

The dynamic of the franchise shifts on its head for the first time Creed himself is in a position of being the champion, the hero – not the underdog, and it works – he’s more Apollo than Rocky, and the storyline needed to change to match that – multiple times he’s described as looking like his father, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to have the same path as Rocky. Here – if anything, Majors is Rocky – and he plays that underdog character as ever he does with the best of them, a world removed from the Vader-like character of Quantumania showing his strength as an actor: even though nobody came out of that film well, him included, what better time to have both movies like these in cinemas? Majors is the real deal – and Creed III will have you convinced of that long before the final punch is thrown.

This is a film that knows what it wants to do from the start and accomplishes that with all the love of the franchise but in a way that proves the best of them survive be renovation over the years (look at Scream), and Creed III takes the franchise to the next level whilst paying respect for its forebears – even in such a dredge of studio filmmaking era that we exist in today ever so often there can be a shining light that feels like an actual film, and Creed III is that movie: a start-to-end, enclosed, encouraging and inspirational action flick that benefits from maximising its formula in a way that modern sports movies always do, but despite this, feel like the only movie ever made when you’re watching them. The slow-mo fights help; making the punches dramatized (this is the same franchise that had everyone on their feet in Creed II for the final bout like a real, proper match).

It's not to say Creed isn’t completely divorced from Rocky, and the cliches are dutifully employed – the fact that it uses its cliches well is a testament to Jordan’s acknowledgement of its character motivations, the first Creed and the second gave every character a personality and soul and much of that is carried out here, although I would’ve liked more of a role for Drago’s son who’s stepping into the Apollo Creed mantle in the sequels for this franchise. Themes of brotherhood, masculinity, and struggle for its lead are presented with a well-drawn main adversary in Dame that gives Adonis a tangible opponent. It’s a statement that people will not just turn up to these movies because Rocky is in them but to also see Adonis – stepping out of the shadow of the Italian Stallion which these movies have relied on as the old war horse for so long. The very fact that Ivan Drago’s son is the main antagonist for Creed II suggests like many legacy sequels that the franchise has been previously reluctant to break away from its past; but now – Creed III is smart enough to carve its own voice in an era where so many legacy sequels are focused on looking back and not forward. Stallone may have gone; citing a “different philosophy” to the Hollywood Reporter in November, but he feels like an afterthought.

The relationship between Dame and Adonis is beautifully shot and illustrated from start to finish; and the relationship between Adonis and his daughter, the deaf Amara, played by Mila Davis-Kent, is so delicately done that it’s such a welcome boon to have a deaf character on film that’s just treated entirely normally in a way that isn’t a plot device. Creed has accelerated its franchise so quickly that rather than stay for six Adonis movies, this is Amara’s story now – and the final moments of this film prove that. Yes, whilst Adonis may get his send off, and his excellent obligatory training montage that includes him carrying an actual plane – Amara is the next hero of this franchise, and the film couldn’t be in a better place to set her up as such. Long live Creed IV, and the franchise that Jordan has set out to make on television and film in exactly the same way Stallone would’ve done, and did – when Rocky was in its heyday.

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