The first Creed is as good as the first two Rocky movies. It builds on all six of the previous films, invests heavily in new characters, and keeps Sylvester Stallone around to finally play the older trainer character.
Sly deserved an Oscar and Michael B. Jordan proved he could take on all comers.
I watched the second one this week and it is much better than I remembered. It’s able to drag the cartoon villainy of the Drago character from Rocky 4 into something approaching a real world where all the characters behave as human beings.
The bad guys in Rocky 3, 4 and 5 are mostly mustache twirlers. But Rocky 4 is amazing. It understood that, at this point, Rocky needed a hissable villian.
Just check out the names: Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, and Tommy Gunn. So what supervillain name does the bad guy get in Creed 3? Damian Anderson.
Like the movie, this is close but just doesn’t quite get there.
Rocky 4 took place in something way beyond the real world where the bad guy actually kills the hero’s best friend in the ring. That the entire Creed franchise is built on that moment proves that while it was an insane choice, it somehow was the right choice.
Creed 1 and 2 succeed even though they refused to give us those types of bad guys. Those movies are about Adonis Creed earning his place in the world and making his own legacy. He’s overcoming his history and proving his worth to himself, his family, and the world.
Almost nothing in the entire franchise hits harder than the climax of Creed when Rocky wants to throw in the towel and Adonis says:
Adonis Johnson: Don’t! I have to prove it!
Rocky Balboa: Prove what?
Adonis Johnson: That I’m not a mistake!Creed
So what’s Creed 3 about? Well, Adonis is rich, successful, and retired. He’s had a storied boxing career (that we have only sorta glimpsed). When a man who was like a brother to him when he was very young gets out of prison, he has to confront their shared history and … for reasons … come out of retirement and face his past.
Except, I wish it were that simple.
Creed 3 creates a new champion that Creed has (off-screen) sponsored and sorta mentored. Then through shenanigans, Damian (Jonathan Majors) gets a title fight and cheats and hurts this other character in the ring. This spectacle makes Majors the heavyweight champ with 1 fight.
It overcomplication on top of overcomplication to get us to a place that anyone who has seen the trailer knows where it is headed.
The movie had me unintentionally laughing later by showing Damian’s professional record as 1-0. Why not just do a montage of fights with Damian to give him a record that makes more sense?
The movie spends a lot of time setting up Damian as a fully realized human being. And then it dips its toe into the idea that Damian is a conniving supervillain. And then it never quite delivers on that and backs away from it completely in the end.
In professional wrestling (and the Rocky and Creed movies are the same kind of male power fantasy that gives pro wrestling it’s juice) there is a term for annoying fans who want to rewrite the storylines.
It’s called fantasy booking.
So how would I fantasy book this? Pretty simple: Adonis is the champ. Damian gets out of prison and starts beating up all the contenders in the division. He won’t be satisfied until he has the belt.
Now, he’s using that shared history to taunt Adonis into a fight that Adonis wants to avoid at all costs.
Simple and straightforward and you can do all the shared history stuff too. Heck, if you need to complicate it you can have Adonis retire midway through the movie and then have Majors give him a villainous reason to return to the ring.
The movie does what it can to show why Adonis would get back in the ring but, and maybe this is just my personality, all I could think was, ‘Adonis has a wife who adores him, a perfect kid and more money than Muhammad Ali. I think I would clown that Damian guy in interviews and never, ever, get in the ring again.”
No one would go see my movie and no actor would play that part but it’s honest and true.
Even with my issues, most of this movie worked just fine. All the family scenes hit their marks. There is a scene very early between Adonis and his daughter that is adorbs. And while I wanted him to be a lot more evil Majors was compelling as always.
There is strong visual work by Jordan, who took on directing duties, and makes a meal out of several wrestler (boxer, sorry) entrances and other moments.
I was pretty happy with it all the way through the training scenes.
But I thought the final fight lacked something, especially when it went into art-house territory. A much younger pal just showed me how some of the fight choreography is lifted from anime and while that didn’t do much for me it probably brought out cheers from the people who spotted the references.
Young men and women are also, I suspect, going to enjoy the fashion and wealth on display in the Creed household. We got to Rocky IV robot territory one movie early.
Also, I agree that Creed, in the third film in his franchise, does not need Rocky. But this movie did need someone who could play that role of amusing truth teller to the hero. The movie spreads that around to Phylicia Rashad (Creed’s mom), Tessa Thompson (his wife), and Wood Harris (his trainer). But that’s a tough role to fill and there’s just something missing.
Rocky, Mickey, Paulie, Apollo all had unique ways of putting their feelings into the world.
You get your face all fixed up. Handsome. Nice clothes. What’d you do for Paulie, anything? This! You give me a lousy, stinkin’ ex-lax watch. There!Rocky III
If he returns to the sport, I hope Creed can find his own Bundini Brown.
“Float like a butterly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble.”
Or to put it in the language of Mickey from Rocky II:
You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!Rocky II
So I think this movie has some real missteps along the way although I was mostly entertained. I want to see it again, I’m betting when it is streaming I might be wowed. That’s what happened to me last week with Creed 2. I remembered it as being just fine but then when I watched it in the run-up to Creed 3 I was overjoyed with how good it was.
This movie might not be a knockout, but it fought me to a draw.