Without Sly, Creed’s one-two combo can’t quite deliver a knockout
All the training that Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa did, culminating in the famous run up the 72 steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, sure paid off.
Here we are, getting on for half a century after Rocky (1976), and the franchise is still punching.
There were six Rocky films before Stallone’s character yielded the spotlight to Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his old adversary and friend, Apollo Creed.
Tired as I am even of the word ‘franchise’, and of series of films that go on for generations, mining the same increasingly tired seam (Bond and the Carry Ons are above reproach, obviously), I was a fan of both Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018).
There’s an expression in boxing: the ‘one-two combo’. Jab with one hand, cross with the other, or attack your opponent with a left hook, quickly followed by a right uppercut.
THeRocky/Creed movies do just that with their audiences, aptly enough. Knock ’em flat with extreme brutality in the ring then follow up smartly with heartrending poignancy out of it, a cinematic one-two combo that has been working for 47 years and counting.
Yet for me, despite — or just as likely because of — this whiskery old formula, Creed III doesn’t quite go the distance. For one thing, there’s no Stallone this time, not because they couldn’t have contrived a way into the narrative for the Great Mumbler, but because he’s at loggerheads with veteran producer Irwin Winkler. either way, the Rocky/ Creed recipe feels wrong without its original ingredient.
More problematically, at least from where I was sitting, the elastic stretch between fiction and real life snaps altogether in Creed III.
As all boxing fans know, these films have always taken huge liberties with what, for want of a shorter word, I’ll call verisimilitude. In the huge box-office hit Rocky Balboa ( 2006), the jaded old champ clambered back into the ring at the age of 60. But this one gets really daft.
Set in the present day, it begins with a flashback to 2002, when the delinquent Adonis commits a violent assault then looks on as his pal, Damian, takes the rap. Two decades on, Adonis is retired from fighting but working as a trainer, manager and promoter.
Wi t h wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their deaf daughter Amara (nicely played by deaf newcomer Mila Davis-Kent), he lives in hilltop splendour, with that panoramic view over los Angeles enjoyed, it sometimes seems, by eight out of ten rich people in the movies.
But then Damian (Jonathan Majors) reappears in his life. He’s just done an almost 20- year stretch in the joint but he was a terrific amateur boxer in his youth and now he wants Adonis to get him a shot at the world heavyweight title.
Adonis owes him, you see. So when the mighty Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) conveniently withdraws from a keenlyawaited forthcoming bout, the script is written. ‘ Right now we gotta think outside the box,’ muses Adonis, thinking not just outside the box but well beyond even the more distant realms of reality. From there, the story gets even sillier, with Adonis himself pulling the gloves back on as a score- settling exercise — a spoiler only to those who’ve never seen one of these films before.
Maybe it’s because I have just ghost-written the autobiography of boxing promoter Frank Warren that I feel faintly affronted by all this in a way that I never have before. Heaven knows, the socalled ‘noble art’ has its flaws as a sport, but there are dozens of immoveable obstacles in place to stop inexperienced, long-forgotten amateurs opting, after a short burst of intense training, to take a crack at a world title.
It does boxing no good for people to be told otherwise. We all love an underdog story, of course, yet commercial fiction doesn’t have to be quite so divorced from hard fact.
Still, if you can see past that, and the unsettling spectacle of young Amara ringside as her beloved daddy goes into thunderous combat, Creed III has its merits.
It is slickly directed ( his directorial debut) by its star, Michael B. Jordan. And as a morally compromised antagonist, Majors does a knockout job.
With his turn as the villain in the new Ant- Man film still in cinemas, he’s clearly on a fast track to stardom. But that rarely happens even in acting without a lot of hard work and great dollops of luck.
In boxing, it only happens in the movies.