Being the first movie in the “Rocky”/”Creed” franchise without Sylvester Stallone playing his infamous Rocky Balboa character, and also Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut, walking into “Creed III” I was more curious than anything about how all of this would turn out. But the story told is strong enough to stand independently and the inclusion of an antagonist played by Jonathan Majors, allows “Creed III” to be considered one of the better movies of the lot.
The story sees the now retired, accomplished veteran boxer turned boxing promoter Adonis Creed, wealthy and happy with his successful wife (Tessa Thompson) and daughter by his side. Everything seems to be going well, until his childhood friend, Damian (Jonathan Majors) who we discover has been in prison for eighteen years, resurfaces. Damian was once the biggest rising star in amateur boxing history, destined to become a world champ, when his dreams were taken from him. And as he was forced to watch the rise of Adonis from prison, his resentment grew, believing that an incident from their childhood was the reason Adonis has the life Damian was always meant to have.
It’s a “retired fighter, forced into one last fight” story. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before, especially in the “Rocky” franchise. This story is strong, but with formulaic beats that feel nostalgically appropriate, resulting in an engaging buildup and effective “final battle” sequence. But what really elevates this above simply a Mr. T vs. Rocky remake are the performances of the two leads. Smartly, Jordan (as a director) realizes this and both him and Majors share a significant amount of screen time throughout.
“Creed III” asks Jordan to transform into the elder statesman, fully taking over the role that Stallone has been playing for a while now. And he does this well, giving a performance that is one of the most grown up of his career. Although, Jordan’s performance is outshined by Majors’ elevation of the standard “Rocky” antagonist (something of a boxing version of Killmonger). He is a villain on paper, but Majors delivers a performance that quietly commands our attention, asking us to not just sympathize with Damian, but to understand his motivations and anger. Bottom line, it is a joy to watch these two high caliber actors play against each other.
Director Jordan does a really good job at the helm. And as the movie progresses, his creativity behind the camera really expands past simply giving us solid camera angles during boxing choreography. During the movie’s final act, Jordan makes it clear through some very creatively and almost interpretive dance inspired visuals that he has something to say about unresolved Black male trauma, and does it in a way one rarely sees beyond the anime arena. That said, the original “Creed” film was directed by Ryan Coogler, one of the best directors working today (one of the best Black directors of Black cinema). So, in a side-by-side comparison, it is a bit obvious that some of the Black-centric intimacy of this script (which Coogler has screenwriter credits) is not hammered home as well is it could’ve been. Also, the pacing meanders a bit at times, and then proceeds to speed up a bit too much just as things begin to feel like this is a two hour drama (the actual runtime is one hour and fifty-six minutes). But none of that prevents “Creed III” from being an entertaining accomplishment, giving lovers of the franchise everything they need to feel at home.
Final Thought: Maybe a hot take, but the absence of Stallone goes unnoticed. I would argue that this Rocky-less story contains a much less clunky narrative than “Creed II”. That is something I’ve always felt was a struggle within the “Creed” movies; balancing between telling the Adonis Creed and Bianca Creed story, while attempting to fit a Rocky story in there without making it seem as though Rocky has become an afterthought. “Creed III”, with its flaws, sees the creative team behind these films spread their wings, making me hopeful for the future of this franchise.
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