Content with digging up the past audiences did not know about time and time again, Creed III embarks on a Rocky Balboa-free feature for the first time in nearly fifty years. Monumental that moment is for the franchise that was guided by Sylvester Stallone and supported the whole way through, the Michael B. Jordan-directed feature makes the most of his efforts in front of and behind the camera. But is removing the key ingredient of a long-running story, blessing or not, a good plan? Creed III takes the bold next steps in the hopes of proving it can stand as an independent feature, but the cut-off from that legacy character hurts more than helps the rumblings of the next steps.
Obvious set-up for an inevitable pay-off as Jordan attempts to bring another villain with a backstory into the scene. It works, barely. Jonathan Majors’ performance holds that together. A weightless opening fight with a returning Tony Bellew misses the point of the Rocky and Creed fights that came before it. These are not chats between boxers yet here the pacing is off and quickened. Even then, it feels as though the Father Time angle is rushed and too soon, a director hoping to scatter in the family angles and the good final fight, despite it being two rounds long. Jordan appears terribly desperate to play the everyman, and although his pivot toward family drama past and present is a bold one, it does not pay off.
Much of that is a too little, too soon variety of trouble, but another trouble for Creed III is the pacing. It takes no time at all to get Creed in, out and back in that ring. Majors and Jordan have an energetic connection with one another, a real tour of their chemistry on-screen is what Creed III relies on and those are the best moments of all. Getting them in the ring is another issue entirely. Despite its severing of the Balboa name, it cannot help itself but base its entire fight on the exact same repetition of the first movie all those years ago. Creed as a franchise, an inevitable next step, needs to pick a lane and stick it. Never quite sticking the emotional landing feels absolutely heartbreaking when the hard work that came before it was all so promising and accomplished. Creed III is a shadow of what it should be, even when it deals emotional blows toward its bitter end.
Whether it is the commentary of the final fight attempting to hammer home the “bad blood” angle or the intense disregard there is for how the past can aid the future, Creed III is an unfortunate mess. Parts of it are still enjoyable and shine through with some of the best moments of the Creed series so far, but that appeal is diminished and squandered. Tessa Thompson is still an incredible example of how great supporting work is an important tool to these features, but the squandered cuts of the final fight do very little for the bad blood that is worked over and over through Creed III. Slow-motion defiance and a frequency for it, another rendition of the Rocky theme but without the man himself. Pick a lane, before it gets too much, too late. Creed will be back in the ring, of course, because for all the retirement and family drama that underlines this, the franchise would be nothing without its sense of sporting triumph.