Creed III perfectly explores the hidden theme of the Rocky Saga

These films are about loss, regret, trauma and how you respond to it. Creed III does it better than ever before.

The last six movies in the Creed/Rocky series have only superficially been about boxing. When watched as a whole, the first two movies Rocky [1977] and Rocky II [1979] feel like films from a different genre. In many ways they are, from Rocky III onwards these films became about something deeper. These movies are about the impact of trauma, or loss, and how one decides to respond to it.

This is barely subtext in any of the films but is most obvious in the excellent Creed III. The most recent film in the franchise is directed by star Michael B Jordan and co-written by Ryan Coogler [Black Panther, Creed].

The latest film deals with mistakes and regrets born from a decision made in childhood. It explores how the characters live with those choices and how they try to overcome them. Adonis Creed [Jordan] is retired, but a visit from an old friend brings up old trauma. He is pressed to talk through his long-dormant emotions by his wife Bianca [Tessa Thompson.]

Since the first Creed film, he has had an outlet for his rage and frustrations, with that gone, he slowly begins to implode. His decision-making becomes clouded and without the tools to express himself, he makes matters worse.

Only by confronting his pain can he start to heal. It takes place in the ring and training montages as all of these films do. But Jordan films the climactic scenes in a truly inventive way. No boxing movie since Raging Bull has used the sport to explore the internal feelings of the men in the ring. Every punch given and received packs an emotional weight and the result is in doubt despite the familiar formula.

If this is the last of the Creed/Rocky films, it is a high note to go out on. It continues, tweaks and perfects the tradition of the series.

It's about how - how you can get hit

Rocky III is best known for Mr T and Eye of the Tiger. But despite the 80’s excesses, this is a movie about hubris. Rocky forgets what made him who he is, and he is broken down to nothing by a combination of Clubber Lang’s hunger and the death of his trainer Micky.

Rocky must face his failure and rebuild himself to move forward, The proverbial Eye of the Tiger is not a winning formula. It is permission to be yourself again, permission to be great.

Rocky IV is the most obvious example of loss in the series. Rocky’s mentor and former opponent Apollo is killed in the ring by a cold, ruthless Ivan Drago.

Rocky falls into a sharp depression. He could have stopped the fight but did not. He has to overcome his guilt and forgive himself to have any chance of beating Drago and ending the Cold war [it’s awesomely ridiculous.]

Rocky V is best ignored. It is a boring film. Rocky loses all his wealth and must start again, finding value in family and community. Once more, it focuses on his response to loss and disaster. He loses his money, his son, and his protégé and must decide what really matters.

Rocky Balboa is the sixth film in the franchise. It is most famous for its inspirational “how hard you can get hit” speech, but another quieter moment revisits the common theme. Rocky is a widower, his grown son wants little to do with him and he feels rather aimless in life.

Rocky confides in his brother-in-law that there is still “stuff in the basement.” Paulie encourages him to “tell me about the stuff,” and Rocky comes to the realization that he has to go out on his own terms. He has not really had closure on his career and feels a void without Adrian. He needs a purpose, a reason to go on which he finds in boxing and through new friends in the neighbourhood.

One step at a round at a time

The Rocky character by this point, is much more emotionally healthy than Adonis Creed is in the current films, and when the two combine in Creed and Creed II, it is masterful. The child who never knew his famous father is mentored by Rocky. He learns to fight and live up to his famous name, eventually stepping out of his father’s long shadow. He needs to prove that he is not a "mistake."

The first two Creed films also dealt with loss through Rocky’s cancer diagnosis and Bianca’s gradual hearing loss.

Each knows that time is a factor and consigns to losing something that they love, but commit to making the most of what opportunities they have.

Creed II shares the story with Ivan Drago and his son. The former Russian champ is disgraced after his loss to Rocky in the 80s and had lost everything. He seeks redemption through his son's career but finds that what he wants cannot be achieved in the ring.

The character arc begun in Creed [2015] is mostly concluded in Creed III. At the beginning of Ryan Coogler’s first film, the young Adonis is shown living in dehumanizing conditions in a juvenile prison. In Creed III, he is shown dealing with the trauma of an abusive childhood and the regrets that come with that.

What should Adonis have done differently, what could he have done differently?

Creed III uses sports to provide Adonis with a chance at redemption that audiences can easily digest. But the heavy themes of the film are the foundations. Adonis is on top of the world and adorns billboards. But the reappearance by Damien Anderson [Jonathan Majors] unravels him emotionally, and he is ill-equipped to handle it.

First, he wants to overcome his guilt by helping Damian financially, then with opportunity. In a heartbreaking moment, he comes to the realization that he cannot really be forgiven until he forgives himself first.

Creed III is a terrific boxing film. It is fantastically acted, brilliantly shot and the most dramatically impactful film in the entire series.

This is a masterpiece by Michael B Jordan that sits comfortably alongside the Oscar-winning original. Most importantly, it continues the tradition of the series with a new focus while delivering everything audiences want from a Creed movie.