Creed III brings us back to the boxing ring, but this time with its star Michael B Jordan behind the camera. In the swirl of pre-release interviews, it was revealed that Jordan had his co-star Jonathan Majors (who plays the film's antagonist, Damian) watch different animes to prepare for the film.
Those who watch anime will likely have noticed the influence of the genre on Creed III. For those who've enjoyed shows like Dragon Ball Z and Ruroni Kenshin, it's easy to spot the particular angles, the way the camera focuses on the most intimate parts of boxing's violence. Rippling flesh and cracked jaws in IMAX or 4K certainly hit hard.
But it's more than just the fights that pull from the anime oeuvre. Intrinsic to Creed III is the dynamic between its two leads, Damian and Adonis. But if you watched Dragon Ball Z, you can see the brotherly tension blueprint: Goku and Vegeta.
Speaking to Polygon, Jordan said: "When you're watching anime, there's all these similar tones, themes, and feelings between them all that in a sense boil down to when a hero is challenged, and they usually have a best friend or rival that's the one challenging them in a lot of ways.
"There's a lot of different ways anime iterates on these themes and feelings. So for me, tapping into that was just a part of me."
Watching the shows Jordan references — Naruto, Lupin the Third, Gundam, Dragon Ball Z — and others (Yu Yu Hakusho, Ruroni Kenshin, Trigun, etc) makes it was easy to spot not only the visual but the emotional influences. For those unfamiliar with anime, they will still stand out.
This is Creed III's biggest strength — Jordan's masterful ability to take a medium that thrives in illustration and turn it into a live-action film that still feels grounded (a far cry from the poor live-action anime adaptations we've seen recently). The fights are not only set in a way that references anime – such as the way the environment disappears, leaving the two characters alone in a void – but also choreographed and shot in a way that evokes the fights of Naruto or Dragon Ball Z.
This separates Creed III not only from the two previous Creed films (and indeed the other Rocky movies) but also from contemporary 'action' films. We have entered an era of bloated CGI and supernatural powers, meaning that the intimacy of violence feels less impactful than ever.
In Creed III, as we see Adonis' fist collide with Damian's jaw, droplets of blood trickling in slow motion and muscles tensing beneath flesh in preparation for impact, we are reminded of how deeply human this whole story is, and how unnatural it is — in a way — to fight each other with such brutality.
Majors himself told Digital Spy that part of the reason the fights are so hard to watch is because of the brotherly nature between the two. That kind of violent conflict is an "anathema to friendship," Majors says.
That theme was highlighted through the way the fights were filmed, in a live-action style of anime. In this way, the medium becomes the message, making Creed III's fights far more clever — and moving —than those that came before.
Creed III is now out in cinemas
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