Michael B. Jordan's directorial debut is a stylish and solid addition to the Rocky legacy.
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Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a die-hard fan of the “Rocky” franchise. I’ve loved almost all of these films (the only outlier being the abysmal Rocky V) and while other moviegoers were counting down the days to see the new “Ant-Man” movie, I was counting down the days to see “Creed III,” because this is my “Quantumania.”
We’re in the era of legacy sequels, from mighty highs like “The Force Awakens” to wimpy lows like “Terminator: Dark Fate” and everything in between like “Jurassic World” and “The Matrix Resurrections.” To me though, none of these legacy sequels have held a candle to what Ryan Coogler did with the first “Creed” movie. With the announcement of “Creed II,” I thought there was no way it could match the strengths of its predecessor, and while it may not have, it was still a damn good movie.
With “Creed III” Michael B. Jordan seems to be following in Sylvester Stallone’s footsteps of directing the third film (Stallone notably directed Rocky II, III, IV, and Rocky Balboa), that being said the absence of the Italian Stallion from this entry did raise some concerns on my end.
Nonetheless, the marketing for “Creed III” and the inclusion of Jonathan Majors, one of the best rising stars in the business, as the villain, have made me very excited to see the next chapter in Adonis Creed’s journey.
The film opens with a flashback involving a young Donnie and Damian as kids and an incident at a liquor store, before flashing to the now-grown Donnie, who after becoming the Boxing Heavy-Weight Champion, has decided to retire and serve as a mentor and promoter for other aspiring boxers.
Life is good, he lives in an impressive mansion with his musician wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), he’s enrolled his daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) in a high-end school for the deaf, and he has even struck up friendships with his past opponents like “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). Things, for the most part, have gone pretty smoothly, but of course, it’s not meant to last once Damian (Jonathan Majors) re-enters his life, fresh out of prison.
At first, Donnie is eager to help out his old friend, despite everyone’s skepticism, and even lets him spar with the professional boxers at the gym. Damian’s dark side slowly starts to re-emerge, and soon enough Donnie is forced back into the ring, one more time, and not only faces off against his one of his oldest friends but also the demons that he has kept hidden from everyone that he loves.
One of the aspects that sticks out the most about “Creed III” is Jordan’s direction. Jordan has claimed on several occasions that anime was a major influence on the way he directed the fights and he wasn’t lying.
The boxing matches feel much different than anything we’ve seen in the franchise. At times it almost feels like a comic-book movie, but while it might seem jarring at first, it feels like a fresh reinvention of what has come before in the franchise. Jordan’s direction feels distinct from that of Coogler, and Stallone in some ways feels like it has more similarities with Edgar Wright’s sensibilities than Steven Caple Jr or John G. Avildsen’s.
The plot is much more simple than the previous two films, which works both to the film’s benefit and against it. The film’s two-hour runtime flies by and there is never a slow moment, but in return when the film decides to become more serious, it ends up feeling more rushed and loses some of the emotion that the first two “Creed” films had.
For hardcore fans like myself, you might still get that intended effect, but casual moviegoers may find it to be empty.
Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson continue to be perfectly cast as Donnie and Bianca (aka this generation’s Rocky and Adrian), but the film’s real standout, without question, is Jonathan Majors as Damian. Fresh off of his fabulous work as Kang the Conquerer in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” Majors ups the ante once more. While the script sometimes has a few too many conveniences for Damian, it’s Majors' performance that really turns the character into one of the best villains of the franchise and it becomes easy to see why Donnie is easily manipulated by him.
My main concern walking into “Creed III” was the absence of Stallone. Rocky isn’t even mentioned in the film outside of one or two lines, but it is understandable why Jordan would want to make the “Creed” films into their own thing.
That being said, certain plot beats take place in the film that makes the character’s absence very noticeable. There have been numerous reports about the character’s absence, some credit it as a creative decision while other reports seem to suggest it goes far beyond that. Regardless, if there is a “Creed IV,” it’ll be interesting to see whether they find a way to bring the character back into the mold. At this point though, it also might deflect on “Creed III.”
The “Rocky” franchise means a lot to me and “Creed III” fits in perfectly with what came before. It may not have the same strengths as the previous two “Creed” films, but it still has that same crowd-pleasing energy that has made nearly every “Rocky” and “Creed” film feel so damn special.