Movie Review: “Creed III”


Michael B. Jordan in "Creed III"

It’s interesting how the team behind the “Creed” movies has been able to create echoes of the “Rocky” franchise while injecting enough new elements to make them stand apart. Much like the original “Rocky,” the first “Creed” finds an unexpected pugilist suddenly thrust into the spotlight for a title bout while confronting his own issues and insecurities. The 2018 sequel, in shades of “Rocky II,” has that same fighter having to deal with unfinished business in the ring while also wrestling with serious drama in his personal life with the woman he loves. And now with “Creed III,” in an obvious nod to the third “Rocky” film, its titular boxer has been pit against a more “street-level” opponent who fights with a previously unseen ferocity.

These are broad outlines that summarize each entry, but it displays the canniness of the filmmakers to take a proven story and tell it in a slightly different way to achieve similar success. “Creed III,” the directorial debut of series star Michael B. Jordan, doesn’t have the visceral intensity or emotional engagement of the previous two installments, but it does inject a surprising amount of style and nuance into a familiar tale to produce something incredibly entertaining.

After unifying the title belts and becoming the undisputed champion, Adonis Creed (Jordan) retires at the top of the game. He turns to managing boxers and promoting fights while raising his daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), with his devoted singer-turned-music producer wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson). But Adonis’ life is turned upside down when his old friend, Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after spending 18 years in prison. Dame wants to become a professional boxer and get his shot at the championship. Feeling guilty about how his friend’s life turned out, Adonis seeks to help him, only to discover that there’s a lot more to Dame’s plan than meets the eye. This puts the two former friends on a collision course that can only be solved in the ring.

It’s not surprising that Jordan excels at evoking strong performances from his cast. That tends to be the standard with actors-turned-directors, as they know the particular language to use to elicit such work. While the script for “Creed III” is not particularly profound (and, in fact, is fairly forced and convoluted in parts), the acting elevates the less-than-stellar plot and dialogue. Majors continues to prove his excellence on screen, as he provides Dame with all facets of emotions and depth through incredibly nuanced and small moments. There are scenes between Dame and Adonis where resentment mixes with jealousy and melancholy that plays out across Majors’ face simultaneously. This makes Dame an elusive character who is riveting to watch and much more sympathetic than he would be in another performer’s hands. Even though the audience knows where this is ultimately heading, there’s an enigmatic quality that keeps it interesting.

This same multi-tiered approach to performances extends to the entire cast, as the actors convey much greater spans of emotion than the script would seemingly allow. Thompson portrays Bianca as a woman who desperately wants to understand the turmoil her husband is going through but is hitting the limit of trying to make someone talk about their emotions. She longs to help but is also exhausted by always having to pry this information from the man she loves. Jordan’s lead performance is the nucleus around which all of “Creed III” is built, of course, and luckily, he has a firm understanding of this character. Adonis constantly wants to prove himself and has seemingly found a life where he feels satisfied with who he is and what he has accomplished. Dame coming back into his life shatters that by dredging up childhood trauma, guilt and anger that he thought he had processed long ago. Again, the acting here is top-notch, with Jordan able to run through this emotional gamut while also providing Adonis with moments of levity and swagger to create a fully fleshed-out person on screen.

Despite these great performances, “Creed III” doesn’t feel as emotionally engaging as the previous two entries. Part of the problem is that Dame is a better emotional threat than a physical one. Yes, he was a gifted boxer before going to prison, but everyone is quick to point out how (relatively) old and inexperienced he is after not fighting for 18 years. This forces the movie to play up how retirement has softened Adonis to make it seem like a more even competition. But there isn’t much before the obligatory training montage that suggests Adonis has lost steps since he stopped fighting. The prior two “Creed” films did a great job of making their protagonist a perpetual underdog, with his talents often undercut by his inner struggles. This does eventually happen — spectacularly so, as I’ll get into momentarily — but it takes far too long to arrive at that point. Audiences need the possibility that the hero might fail (like in the first “Creed” and the original “Rocky”) and know why such defeat is a real risk.

That obligatory montage sequence is oddly toothless when compared to past efforts. There is no sense that Adonis is learning anything new or trying some new method to counter Dame’s abilities. He’s just sparring (with a returning Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago!) and working out as normal. However, there should be some change he has to make in his approach to adapt to this new circumstance. It is teased that, while he isn’t as strong or fast as Dame, Adonis is more experienced and can use that cunning to out-strategize his opponent, but that doesn’t come into play as much as one would expect. This sequence’s lack of hype and engagement is made even odder by the fact that “Creed III” is easily the most stylistically interesting of the franchise. The fights feel epic and even get turned into larger-than-life metaphors for the combatants, greatly increasing the spectacle while also furthering the drama. Jordan, working with DP Kramer Morgenthau, does tremendous work making his film full of compelling visual choices that stay with viewers long after the final bell has rung.

“Creed III” is a winning movie that delivers exceptional performances alongside standout fights in an impressively stylish manner. It’s incredible that this is Jordan’s first time as a director, as he arrives so assuredly, getting the most from all facets of the team. The script is not particularly innovative, and the montage sequence (truly the heart of all of these films) falls flatter than it should, but it remains a riveting portrayal of anger with an unexpectedly touching ending. Like the “Rocky” films from which they sprung, the “Creed” installments may have more than a bit of formula to them, but it’s the details that make them work so well.


Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris
Director: Michael B. Jordan

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