Everyone loves an underdog story. Once an underdog, Adonis “Hollywood” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is one no more. It’s been nearly many (undefined) years since he burst onto the scene taking “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) to the limit, and quite a few years since he went to war—twice, with Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). Donnie is back on top of the world, going out as champion and embracing life as husband and fight promoter to music producer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their now nine-year-old daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent).
But it is never that easy, is it? One afternoon, a mysterious man shows up near his gym. Donnie is flummoxed, but quickly realizes it is Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), an old friend that Creed grew up with and around during his time in group home. An incident that took place in 2002 landed “Diamond Dame,” once a promising amateur boxer, in prison for most of his adult life. The catch-up over time becomes tense and more tense in each subsequent meeting Donny has with Dame, as the latter makes it clear he feels Donny’s story is his, and he’s ready to take everything that he never had a shot at. Forcibly.
Got to give it up to Creed and Creed II. It is hard and probably impossible to create a wholly new take on a boxing movie coming out of a familiar subgenre corner, though both to varying extents (first obviously more than the second) do quite a bit to feel novel and inspired. For varying reasons, Creed III may actually be the freshest a boxing movie can feel nowadays. That doesn’t mean every production combination hits flush, but what does lands with impact.
As far as degree of difficulty goes as it pertains to filming a debut, Creed III is high. Jordan steps back into the ring and now behind the lens for the first time to lead the longstanding franchise. It has long been said in boxing that styles make fights, and differing styles from each respective director have helped the Creed movies find their own lane. In 2015’s Creed, Ryan Coogler’s direction was precise and feathery, and 2018’s Creed II done by Steven Caple, Jr. leaned into more weight behind the action, resembling games like Fight Night and Ready 2 Rumble.
In Creed III, MBJ wears his anime interests and influences proudly, often setting up the boxing bouts like something one might see in Dragon Ball Z or Samurai Champloo and then having the camera pull in, out, off, and on focus—and occasionally transporting the action into a totally different figurative environment, to create something uniquely unorthodox. It takes some time to get adjusted to, and I’m not quite sure I completely dig it on initial viewing. That said, I appreciate the embrace in trying something new and I get the sense Jordan’s style will pay off on subsequent rewatches. Action-wise, overall this is a rock-solid debut, but the film does miss the grandiose score and character theme Ludwig Göransson created and doesn’t have the legendary training montages we all come to expect. And it kind of misses the appearances of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, and Roy Jones Jr. (HBO no longer carries boxing) made as all three added a big fight feel to many of the prior bouts.
They always say that for every person who makes it, there’s at least a large handful of others who don’t, whether due to self-inflicted reasons or external ones. Co-written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, Creed III’s script tackles this, the survivor’s guilt element particularly in the black community where the line between making it and missing out is often razor-thin. On another theme, the movie is also interested in mortality, and how some of us are able to embrace it depending on where we are in life, and others have to fight the sand slipping through the hourglass as the last vestiges of glory are chased. Jordan and co. do a great job at reminding us of this visually. Philosophically, these are interesting ideas in a boxing movie, but the writers and Jordan’s details are sometimes rushed and unfathomable even in a Rocky/Creed feature. The progressive timeline of current and past events feels a bit wobbly, and the pacing isn’t quite as meticulous as it needs to be. This is the shortest of the Creed movies and it’s easy to see a few areas where extra minutes would have boosted storytelling.
Save for the first Creed and the early installment Rocky’s, the franchise has never had impressive scripts, but nearly every installment has had at least two great characters prior films did a great job in getting audiences to care about, and Creed III is the same. Jordan and Thompson have made these characters their own, and in some ways Creed III gives them the most meat to work with that isn’t tied to series stalwarts of the past. Not much more can be said about Majors that hasn’t already been said, proving his versatility more and more in nearly every role he’s taken, and the chemistry he has not only with Jordan from the get-go but Thompson too goes a long way in creating the tragic shared past that threatens the future. The heart of the movie is provided by Davis-Kent and to a lesser extent, Phylicia Rashad. While their screentime is limited, both either connect the present to the past (Rashad) or set up the future in more than adequate ways.
Maybe setting up the future to go in a myriad of interesting ways is reason alone to celebrate Creed III. Realistically, there’s no way this franchise should still have this amount of potential juice in it. We’re past the prime of Adonis, but likely just getting started with others in the ring.
Photo credits go to newyorker.com, complex.com, and wng.org.
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Being in the Philly area, I was “raised” on Rocky. Dating myself here saying I saw it in the theatre when it first came out. After all the Rocky franchise views, I just couldn’t bring myself to enter the Creed world. Haven’t seen any of the three, but I suppose if I am going to do so now is the time to start because this franchise seems likely going to have more chapters ahead.
I would at least start with the first Creed. It can be argued that the other two are obvious law of diminishing returns as sequels tend to be (they’re not bad at all though(, but the first Creed is really, really beautiful on multiple levels.