Creed 3 is directed by Michael B. Jordan who stars as Adonis Creed in the third film of this series and the ninth film in the Rocky franchise. The story centers on Creed’s post-retirement life: after taking over a gym and managing an up-and-coming fighter, Creed’s life is up-ended when Dame (Jonathan Majors), a childhood friend, returns to seek a title bout.
Rocky (1976) was great because it captured the feeling of the American Dream and featured an underdog, working-class hero who gets the chance we all think we deserve. Rocky also highlighted a moving and touching love story, and Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone) eventual defeat in the first film is not a terrible downer because the relationship between Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) is so well-done. It speaks of the franchise’s development that the movie posters for every subsequent Rocky film depict boxing, but the first poster is of Rocky holding Adrian’s hand.
Creed 3 departs from both the Rocky franchise and the Creed franchise to date. Reductively speaking, Creed (2015) was reminiscent of Rocky, and Creed 2 (2018) had an unhealthy chuck of Cold War nostalgia in its rehash of Rocky 4 (1985). Creed 3 avoids portraying Adonis as an underdog and abandons any attempt at working class sensitivity, as we meet Adonis in a luxurious LA lifestyle, far above and removed from his violent, lower-class past. Adonis is firmly established as living a life of privilege, and the film’s antagonist, Dame, has just been released from prison.
The second act reveals Dame’s history with Adonis, and while one can argue about the degree of moral culpability, without giving away spoilers, I can say there is much Adonis has to apologize for in his behavior after the key event depicted in the film’s flashbacks and framing narrative. In this way, Dame earns the audience’s sympathy. He becomes the working-class hero as the film specifically points out his parallel to Rocky. And yet the turn at the film’s midpoint makes Dame an arch villain, as he uses dirty tactics to gain an advantage – character traits that disappear in the final fight.
The lead-up to the climactic showdown between Creed and Dame takes on different characteristics than the previous films. In Rocky, we rooted for the working-class underdog; Creed 3 attempts to force the audience to cheer on Creed as he defends his privilege against the working-class upstart. Even the costuming decisions – Creed all in white and Dame in black – reinforce the feeling that Creed is the justifiable establishment figure against the dark, encroaching force of Dame. Creed defends his family from the truth of his background and childhood. In a franchise built on the celebration of the working-class American Dream, Creed 3 is a step backwards – a celebration of privilege, a pull-the-ladder-up-behind-you defense of status.
All of this is added onto the fact that Creed 3 sidelines Tessa Thompson’s Bianca, Adonis’s wife. Too-brief scenes depict her as a mother and disappointed musical artist, hemmed in by hearing loss, but when the time comes for the film to center men fighting, her character falls in line as a the dutiful, supporting, and encouraging wife.
The fighting sequences are fine; Jordan inventively directs one moment during the final fight. But most of these scenes are indistinguishable from all the other boxing movies. In a genre and franchise that’s built on strong characters and rousing themes, Creed 3 is a massive step backward and a profound disappointment.