Creed III (PG13)
116 minutes, opens on Thursday
The story: After the events of Creed II (2018), boxing champion Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is on top of the world. With music producer wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) by his side, he is looking forward to the next stage of his life. But along comes Damian (Jonathan Majors), a childhood friend and former up-and-comer who has a score to settle with Adonis.
Every movie hero needs a nemesis, and whether one is James Bond or Dominic Toretto from the Fast And Furious franchise, the day will come when one’s shadow appears – the sworn brother who left as a loved one, but has returned a villain.
It is a properly grandiose premise for the ninth film to be set in the Rockyverse, a place where emotions are big and winning is everything.
Instead of an underdog story, the basis for the first Rocky (1976) and Creed (2015) movies, the sequels have been less about getting paid and more about the insecurities of the rich.
The struggle to maintain one’s status at the top of the heap is as American as apple pie, a fact that the Rocky films emphasised by making the baddie a communist demigod and Rocky a working-class hero.
That is not to say that things have not evolved. Under the hand of lead actor and first-time director Jordan, the contented Creed is a man who loves his family and luxuries (in that order), but is tormented by his shadow, represented by Damian.
It has been a trademark of the Creed films that the hero battles himself as much as his ring opponent, and it could not be clearer – unless it were written in the sky behind the main character’s head – that Damian is guilt personified. Creed beat the odds, but Damian represents the many African-American men who did not. Without father figure Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, marking his first absence from a Creed movie), the hero has to seek advice from elsewhere.
The story becomes morally creaky when it tries to show Creed beating his demons, to begin feeling that he deserves his vast wealth, but that flaw is a small part of a well-crafted male soap opera that features thrilling boxing sequences and, yes, a sweaty, grunty, pre-showdown training montage.
Hot take: It is Creed versus Creed here – the wealthy family man battles the person he might have been, if not for a twist of fate.