A review of "Creed III" from someone who cares about Rocky more than world hunger
Gonna fly now!
There are people who, as children, watched Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, or Barney The Dinosaur. I am not one of these people. When I was a young child, my siblings and I didn’t have TVs in our rooms, so everything we watched was with adults, and the adults in our lives did not want to watch those things. They wanted to watch adult things. But they weren’t crazy people. They didn’t force me to watch The Unbearable Lightness of Being when I was four.
There is a specific type of film that is appealing to young children and adults: pop blockbusters with lots of exciting things going on that definitely contain mature elements but can still be enjoyed by children who don’t get the mature part. Nowadays, superhero films fill that void, but 30 years ago, aside from Batman, we really didn’t have those. Instead, you had two franchises that aired endlessly on cable television because they hit this exact sweet spot: James Bond and Rocky.
No judgment of those James Bond kids—I have seen every single old Bond film at least 50 times—but I was a Rocky kid.
My earliest memories of television in the late 80s and early 90s are watching Rocky I-IV over and over and over again. They were on television a lot, but we also had them on VHS. Aside from my father’s most famous films, there are no movies that I have seen more times than Rocky III and Rocky IV.
Rocky I won best picture and made Sylvester Stallone a movie star, but when people think about Rocky, they mostly think about Rocky II-IV. Most people don’t even remember that Rocky lost in the first one. Those three sequels get progressively sillier and, according to four-eyed film critics, progressively worse. But film critics are loser virgins. Those three films, but specifically Rocky III and IV, are perfect blockbusters.
My love of the Rocky franchise—and Rocky the character—is profound.
Rocky V, however, isn’t good. It’s not the worst film ever made, but it isn’t good. Indefensibly bad. Heartbreakingly bad because, for so long it seemed like the franchise would end on such a sour note. But then Sylvester Stallone pulled off a minor miracle almost twenty years ago when he brought the character back for Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky VI). This Rocky film is somewhat absurd. Rocky is a zillion years old and decides to fight the reigning heavyweight champ in an exhibition match. When I read the synopsis for the film, I thought it would be a train wreck. The entire idea sounds like an SNL skit. (Stallone and De Niro would later team up for the worst possible version of said film in the awful old boxers give it one more shot movie Grudge Match.) But Rocky VI was actually great! Not in a “let’s think about this too hard” way, but in a “the DNA of these films is still strong and why am I crying watching an old man go the distance” way.
So, since that was successful, Hollywood did what it does, and a few years later, we got Creed, where Rocky becomes the trainer and Michael B Jordan takes the stage as our beloved underdog boxer. This franchise extension was the brainchild of Ryan Coogler—and he just nailed it. The first Creed is a masterclass on how to reinvent a beloved franchise. It isn’t just a Black version of Rocky. It is better than that. It infuses a familiar and predictable story with these fresh themes and gives it a whole new breadth. It helped that Coogler is the best director ever to make one of these movies, so every scene has a visual flare that was unexpected in the franchise. Everyone loved Creed I.
Creed II was not loved by everyone. But it was loved by people who loved Rocky IV. Creed II, directed by the capable but less spellbinding Steven Caple, is a love letter to Rocky IV. Its story beats are very similar, and Adonis avenges his father’s death at the hands of Ivan Drago by first losing to but then coming back and beating Drago’s son.
Critics didn’t love Creed II as much as Creed I because, again, critics are total squares. But I bought more stock in Creed after the second one. I was on cloud 9. “They are doing it!!! This is working! We are going to get more of these films!!!!”
I present these previous paragraphs to you as my credentials to discuss Creed III, a film I found sadly disappointing.
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