Creed III Three stars Nationwide; cert 12A
How do you make a Rocky film without the main attraction?
Surprising though it may seem, Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion has become something of a supporting player in his own saga. The last time Sly’s heavyweight champ fought in the ring was in 2006’s Rocky Balboa. You might remember the plot.
In it, a greasy sports promoter convinces an ageing Balboa to dust off his gloves for a lucrative exhibition match. Lessons are learned, demons are exorcised and – against all odds – Balboa makes it out of the circus alive. We had our fun, and some of us considered it a charming, dignified conclusion to the tale.
We were wrong.
Released in 2015, Ryan Coogler’s Creed spun the franchise on its head with a next-generation chapter that both repositioned and revitalised the story in ways that nobody expected. This time, the focus was on Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed (Michael B Jordan), son of Apollo, Rocky’s late rival-turned-friend.
Jordan excelled as a scrappy fighter in desperate need of a mentor – and Stallone earned an Oscar nomination for a lovely, tender turn as Donnie’s reluctant trainer. Somehow, the boys repeated the trick, with mesmerising results, in 2018’s Creed II.
Here we are, five years later and the big question is this: do these characters have anything left to say? There are changes. Jordan, like Stallone before him, is now star and director of the show. Coogler receives a story credit.
Perhaps the biggest shake-up is that Stallone is nowhere to be seen. He continues to serve as a producer, but Rocky is no longer part of the story. Will you miss him? You will. Would it be a better film with him in it? Maybe not.
We begin with a flashback. A teenage Donnie (Thaddeus J Mixson) sneaks out one night to support his best mate Damian ‘Dame’ Anderson (Spence Moore II) at an amateur boxing event in Los Angeles.
Dame is a promising fighter and is determined to see his name up in lights. But there may be trouble around the corner.
For a start, Dame is a loose cannon and has packed a firearm in his gym bag. Later that evening, the boys end up in an unfortunate altercation outside a liquor store. Dame pulls his weapon, and bang goes his future. Donnie escapes charges, but his friend lands an 18-year-sentence. Even the casual Rocky viewer will know where this is headed.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and Donnie (Jordan) has called time on a triumphant boxing career. Alas, the former heavyweight champ is struggling with retirement. He knows it, his rock star wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), knows it, and there’s no pulling the wool over mum’s eyes either (welcome back, Phylicia Rashad, as Mary-Anne Creed).
Cracks are appearing everywhere.
Daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) has begun to use her fists at school. Mary-Anne might be ill. And now, out of nowhere, Dame (now Jonathan Majors) shows up at Donnie’s gym, fresh out of prison and keen to pick up where he left off.
Obviously, Donnie is wracked with guilt, and – following a series of convenient plot swerves – somehow lands his childhood buddy a major title shot. Controversial stuff, and Dame shows his true colours in the ring.
We’ve probably said too much, but it’s hardly a spoiler to suggest that someone, at some stage will need to put manners on this Dame chap – and that someone might just be the fella whose name adorns the poster.
A reasonably smooth set-up there, nicely managed – for a while, at least – and brilliantly performed, too. Jordan is reliably wonderful as the thoughtful champ with a tricky conscience, and Thompson brings excellence and elegance to the table as his devoted partner.
Majors, however, steals the show from them both, and the muscular Californian is outstanding as a troubled soul who knows he missed out on his glory years. Creed III has its flaws, but it lights up whenever Majors enters the frame. Its biggest problem is a messy, misguided second half that feels contractually obliged to adhere to a rusty formula.
It stops making any real effort to surprise us. It loses its head with a monumentally silly training montage (fighters now drag airplanes to test their strength, apparently).
Ironically, the boxing gets in the way of a good time, and the final fight sequence – heavy on symbolism, light on thrills – is disappointingly sloppy.
Jordan’s film is never boring, but the magic is running thin and he is beginning to push his luck. A fourth chapter would be unwise.
Selected cinemas; cert 15A
Belgian cinema has consistently offered a fine line in unflinching, pathos-heavy, social-realist drama.
Since making his debut with the equally celebrated and controversial 2018 trans drama Girl, Lukas Dhont has seemed part of the same lineage as the great Dardenne brothers. This second outing with co-writer Angelo Tijssens confirms that such talk is without hyperbole.
It tells of Léo and Rémi (Eden Dambrine and Gustav De Waele), two inseparable 13-year-olds in rural Belgium. When they start secondary school, their tight bond draws attention in the school yard. This makes Léo increasingly self-conscious at a key age when fitting in can seem crucial. He begins to distance himself from Rémi by signing up for ice hockey. Rémi does not take this well at all.
A Cannes Grand Prix winner and a worthy fellow Best International Oscar nominee to An Cailín Ciúin, Close is a staggeringly beautiful and utterly devastating modern tragedy about a version of male love being torn apart by society’s narrow conventions.
Few films this or any year will leave such a mark on your heart and stay with you in the hours and days after house lights go up. Hilary White
Exclusively at IFI; cert TBC
When Joan (Isabelle Huppert) bumps into an old Irish flame (Stanley Townsend) in Paris, she keeps shtum about the son he fathered with her before they became separated in Dublin.
The encounter ushers in her waves of reflection about the intervening years – young love in Ireland while working as an au pair, the affair and sudden departure of her mother (Florence Loiret Caille), and her relationships with her son and a temperamental author (Lars Eidinger).
Laurent Larivière’s unconventional, novelistic drama moves in mysterious ways, through time and geographical borders, and even the fourth wall.
As a portrait of a strong and resilient character coming to terms with the hand that life has dealt her, it has a decidedly Gallic pep to it that maintains your interest even when deviating into self-indulgence. Those who prefer more linear storytelling formats should perhaps therefore approach with a level of caution.
Effortlessly magnetic throughout, Huppert is a solid base upon which to assemble the whole film’s superstructure, with Eidinger, Townsend, and Screen International Rising Star Éanna Hardwicke the other highlights. Hilary White
Select cinemas; cert TBC
“If the fashion industry were a country, it would rank third for carbon emissions after China and the US.” A frightening fact, among the first of many in Becky Hutner’s insightful documentary.
The story reads like that of a far-fetched drama. A trailblazing fashion designer, Amy Powney, is crowned Vogue’s Best Young Designer of the Year. With an entire industry now staring at her, Amy decides to use the prize money to transform her business.
A creative director at London-based cult label Mother of Pearl, she develops an ambitious plan to design an ethical, fully sustainable collection “from field to finished garment”.
A room full of buyers look at her like she’s lost the plot, but Amy – a staunch environmentalist, determined to make a difference in a maddeningly wasteful trade – will see it through.
Fashion Reimagined weaves a crisp, educational narrative out of a three-year journey that takes us from the frosty glamour of London Fashion Week to the sun-drenched home of a Uruguayan sheep farmer. An unlikely venture, but an essential one – and Hutner’s awesome display captures it beautifully. Chris Wasser