Director: Michael B. Jordan
Notable Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson,
Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Mila Davis-Kent, Jose Benavidez
Jr, Selenis Leyva, Florian Munteanu
One step. One punch. One round at a time.
This mantra from the first Creed makes a brief
appearance in the final act of Creed III. It’s a smooth callback to the
original and it’s a small reminder of just how far this sub-series within the Rocky
franchise has come in three films. Yes, it’s a phrase that has stuck with me
since the first film, but hearing Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed mutter it
under his breath prior to the big final match was a stark reminder of why this
series has had potency in recent years. For a franchise with almost 50 years of
material, Creed III is tackling legacy in such a smart way that even
bringing back the mantra as thematic is potent.
However, the problem that plagued the previous sequel was
that the Creed series was still living in the shadow of its past. Creed
II was less a sequel to its predecessor and more of a sequel to Rocky IV.
Fun, yes, but it’s a problem that Creed III needed to address. Creed
needed to step out from the shadows of the past and into the future, both as a
character and as a film series.
This is the first reason why Creed III finds success.
The series attempts to alter the course by pulling as far away from Rocky
as possible. Yes, Rocky’s mantra makes an appearance and Sly Stallone’s Italian
Stallion is mentioned briefly, but this entry is making the intelligent
maneuver of leaning away from Rocky’s lore as a basis and finding its own lore
to create. Although it is still hard to beat the coming-of-age and rise to
glory of the original Creed, Creed III is a large step up from
its predecessor and finds an incredible balance of entertainment, heart, and a
new vision for the franchise's future.
Now that Adonis Creed has established himself as a
powerhouse in the boxing world, reclaiming his name and establishing a life for
himself and his family, he is retiring. However, as with any great character in
an action-esque franchise, it’s not so easy to just walk away. An old friend
from his childhood, Diamond Dame, has recently been released from prison and
pops up to be a new and wildly uncouth boxer that Adonis feels responsible for.
If anything, Creed III sets itself aside from every
other film in this series with Diamond Dame. Not only is Dame representative of
so many great themes around guilt, the dark past, and lost time for the film’s
narrative, but it’s brought to life with a vividity of acting skills by
Jonathan Majors. Majors imbues the sadness of a young man beaten down by life
in the body of a finely crafted military tank chiseled to reclaim what was lost
in such a dynamic way that the rest of the cast - an incredible cast might I
add - feel simplified in his wake. Even the big bad villain birthing sequence
where Creed confronts Dame on a beach is layered with such incredible acting
from Majors that the sequence ends up being one of the best and not nearly as
endeared to the tropes as it might have. Not only is Dame the highlight of what
Creed III wants to accomplish in plot and theme, but he’s the best
opponent to ever grace a Rocky film. Easily.
Naturally, with a force de jour like Majors playing with
such a fascinating character to co-headline the film against the already
fleshed-out titular hero, Creed III gets to dabble in a lot of
intriguing material about lives lived and lives lost to choices and
consequences out of our control. Jordan, as a first-time director, ably handles
most of the material while giving a much-needed boost of energy to Creed’s
family dynamics and how it interweaves with his own story.
If anything, the script is often overstuffed with too many
interesting ideas that it never quite gets to explore many of its secondary
themes. A subplot revolving around Creed’s daughter, Amara, and fighting at
school never quite sees a full resolution and both the wife and daughter end up
being mostly spectators to the finale act. Even the transition in the film from
Creed figuring out where he stands with his past to choosing to fight Dame
seems oddly rushed and lacks the familial discussion necessary for that
decision. It’s a shame too because when Tessa Thompson is on screen, she owns
the character with vigor and represents so much of the emotional weight for the
film’s continued future.
Yet, despite some of its scripting flaws and a narrative
that doesn’t quite play out all of its intriguing sub-threads, Creed III
has one more trick up its sleeve: incredible action sequences. While Michael B.
Jordan surprises with his aptitude for dramatic moments as a director, it’s in
the film’s action that he gets to showcase his style. Now it’s already been
heavily covered that he was inspired by anime in how he approaches these
moments, but don’t let that detract from the fact that he just knows how to
pace and shoot action. While Coogler directed the action of the first Creed
to be incredibly realistic, shooting so much of it in long expertly
choreographed takes, Jordan opts for style here and even goes so far as
creating a type of dream-like quality to major sections of the final fight -
where all the elements of the past enter the ring with Dame and Creed. It’s
spectacular and ecstatic when it’s free-flowing in its dramatic heft. For this
alone, one ought to give Creed III the benefit of the doubt.
Although the Rocky fans who leaped over to the Creed series
might take beef with it for trudging out on its own, it’s hard not to love what
Creed III is doing with the material. It’s not only continuing with the
themes and ideas that made this franchise great, but it’s staking its own claim
on expanding the world and creating its own identity. With its stellar
performances, brutally stylish fight sequences, and thematic gut punches, Creed
III simply moves the entire series forward by focusing on making one good
In fact, Michael B. Jordan must have been taking the mantra
to heart. One character. One scene. One movie at a time. …and this is why Creed