Tom Jolliffe on Creed III, and why it’s time to sever ties with Rocky…
When Ryan Coogler made Creed in 2015, diving into Rocky Balboa’s cinematic universe, he managed to smash all expectations. The prospect of a Rocky spinoff, focused on the son of Apollo Creed (Adonis, as played by Michael B. Jordan), piqued curiosity among many, without necessarily promising quite the revitalised formula that Coogler did deliver. In essence it was the quintessential sports film, anchored by a central romance and a young (but not that young) protagonist struggling to find his lot in life. The film was so good in fact, it exceeded box office expectations and also earned the returning Sly Stallone an Oscar nomination. Somewhat unfairly in the eyes of many, Coogler, Jordan and Tessa Thompson were overlooked at the majors. Whilst Stallone’s heartfelt and endearing performance was the star of the show, the film was still grounded by an engaging protagonist, and a combination of star and director that proved almost as effective as their combination in Fruitvale Station (the star maker for both respective gentlemen).
Given Rocky’s penchant for sequels and this being an age of franchise, a sequel was inevitable. Creed II came in 2018, with Coogler stepping back into a producers role and handing direction over to Steven Caple Jnr. The film matched the first punch for punch in many respects (certainly financial). As a Rocky fan and the original aside, particularly the fourth film, I loved the rehash of East vs West, Man vs Machine, Creed/Balboa vs Drago. Creed II ended up more a Rocky film than a Creed film in many ways. It still had heart, and a grounding that Coogler brought with his first film. What it also did though, was up the spectacle side. This would become more about the fight than the first film. If Adonis was suitably introduced in the first film, whilst slightly overshadowed, the second film saw him eclipsed even more. Here-in lies a problem for an Adonis lead franchise; His arc from the first repeated in Creed 2. There’s that fight to find his own identity and step out from his fathers shadow. He’s hamstrung by history. That’s great, and Jordan is atypically immersed, but it just wasn’t as interesting as his journey in the first film. As a Rocky aficionado I did of course love the return of Drago and father and son actually end up the most engaging characters in the film, along with Rocky (who once again, for the third film running, gets a great send off, that really, REALLY should be it now). It’s an excellent film, magnificent spectacle, but it’s more Rocky VII than Creed II.
So is it Jordan selling this franchise, or is it the returning Stallone? Given their respective trajectories, and the fact Jordan seems more relevant in the modern age (and I’d hazard a guess, more appealing to younger audiences) there must be enough credit in the bank for Adonis Creed to pull in an audience himself without needing the guiding hand of Balboa. As huge a Sly/Rocky fan as I am, it’s time to let Balboa retire. His ending in Creed II was touching and almost perfect. It’s time to do what was originally intended and pass the torch. Will Creed III be as financially successful as the first two? No. Stepping away from Rocky and leaving that world behind will lose some fans. Likewise the pandemic has changed expectations for almost everything, but since a Creed film could be made with indie mentality on an indie budget, it can still turn a hefty profit. There’s no need to over extend themselves. What the film needs is the requisite struggle for Creed to overcome, but a new arc for a man who’s laid his father’s ghost fully to rest. I’d love to see Mr T triumphantly return to cinemas as much as the next 80’s kid, but fanciful suggestions of Clubber Lang and son to step in are not feasible, and will take things to even potentially sillier avenues (the second film very skilfully managed to avoid, as Drago’s return could have been ludicrous).
Jordan and Thompson have never been less than stellar in the films, but they’ve had to share too much spotlight with characters who brought their own established lore to the table. With Jordan also directing on Creed III, now is an opportunity to get back to the roots of the first Creed and give this character new challenges that take the focus away from the ring, Rocky and Papa Creed. Thompson in particular has been somewhat relegated to the background in the films but has managed to inject so much into her character. It’s the mark of a real talent, and she should be given even more platform in the film, a full and genuine share alongside Jordan. They can build this film around two of the finest actors of their generation. Much too will depend on how Jordan steps into the role of director. He’ll undoubtedly have ideas and I wouldn’t think he’ll be too focused looking backward either. Jordan is clever enough to know that appeasing a nostalgic fan base will prove folly compared to maintaining and producing more new fans. Here’s hoping this gets the story of Adonis Creed and Bianca back on track and into engaging and interesting new avenues (some potentially of which were teased in the second one).
What are your thoughts on Creed III? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth or hit me up on Instagram…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/