As of this writing, I have memories of Creed and did not see Creed II. With that said, I went into Creed III with some vague ideas of what had gone on before. Creed III in its almost two-hour runtime says a lot, but doesn't say much.
Adonis Creed (director Michael B. Jordan) is on top of the world, his last fight a successful one and ready for retirement. His beautiful wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) are his world. His boxing training center is his business. Now, however, the past has
caught up to him, in the form of Damian "Dame" Anderson (Jonathan Majors).
Twenty years ago, Damian was the king of underworld boxing, with Adonis as his running buddy. A crime, however, sent them on different paths: Adonis eventually to his biological father's family, Damian to prison. Now, Damian wants another shot to box again. Creed gives him that chance by being the sparring partner to his newest protege, but Dame's rough manner is a harbinger of things to come.
Dame gets his chance through some shady means, and now Dame is after Creed. Adonis will now have to come out of retirement to challenge his frenemy in an epic battle for more than the heavyweight championship of the world.
Damian, for example, is a variation of Rocky III's Clubber Lang. The intense fighter whose fight puts the rival's life in danger has a touch of Rocky IV to it. Granted, the difference is that unlike Rocky IV, Damian's challenger Felix Chavez (Jose Benavides, Jr.) is not killed in the ring. However, he is more plot device than genuine character given that outside a quick appearance at the Creed/Anderson bout, he is not mentioned again.
It would have been impossible to play that angle since Creed II already brought about the sons of Rocky IV's Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago. Curiously, Ivan Drago, Jr.'s withdrawal from the fight appears inspired not by the Rocky films but by all things I, Tonya.
Even by its curious universe, Creed III asks its audience to believe simply outlandish things. There is no way that Damian, fresh out of prison, would not only get a bout against the reigning heavyweight champion but that said match would draw massive crowds and a big pay-per-view audience. Creed III does depend on implausibility and idiocy from the characters.
For example, Damian tells Adonis that he wrote to him while in prison. Adonis says he never got these letters, but not once until either shortly before or after his father's wife Mary Anne (Phylica Rashad) passes did it ever occur to him to so much as look, let alone ask.
It also has first-time director Jordan do something that many first-time directors, particularly actors-turned-directors, go for. There is an unfortunate habit of focusing more on the visuals than on the performances, and Creed III did this. The climatic fight between Adonis and Damian devolves into some bizarre almost anime-like sequence. The visuals, where a metaphorical cage descends on them as they shifted from Dodgers Stadium to a netherworld, has as its purpose to just call attention to itself.
A odder situation is when the Creed family is having dinner. The scene is so dark it becomes hard to see what is going on, a strange decision by Jordan. Quoting the music from Rocky does not help in trying to break away from the Rocky mythos and having the Creed series stand on its own.
The performances were fine though unmemorable. Jordan has good moments with Davis-Kent, though in another aspect of Creed III's habit of not mentioning things, she gets into a fight with a bully, and this is never brought up again. Rashad's last scene where in her stroke-addled confusion mistakes Adonis for Apollo is also effective, a credit to Rashad.
I think Creed III is an acceptable crowd-pleaser if you care about this Rocky spinoff. I cannot say I was enthusiastic about it, but I can't find much to say I hated it.
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