Jordan and Majors Trade Fierce Melodramatic Body Blows in the Hard-Hitting Creed III
Creed III is the ninth installment in the Rocky-verse, and the first entry not to include an appearance by creator-producer-star Sylvester Stallone. From the first moment filmmaker Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) came up with the idea for the next generation of cinematic pugilists to revolve around the late Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), starting with 2015’s Creed, it was only a matter of time before Rocky Balboa could quietly saunter into the sunset. This was handled beautifully in 2018’s Creed II, so the character’s absence here feels entirely justified and authentically appropriate.
Not that anyone should then assume that producer Ryan Coogler or screenwriters Keenan Coogler (Space Jam: A New Legacy) and Zach Baylin (King Richard) are looking to reinvent the wheel in this latest chapter. Even without Rocky, this is still very much a “Rocky” movie: Heavyweight champion achieves all he thought he desired. Retires to spend more time with his loving wife and child. Faces unexpected turmoil and tragedy. Ends up feeling the need to get back inside the ring for one Last Big Fight. Cue up the requisite Bill Conti theme.
In this case, the ghost hiding in the darkened recesses of Adonis’s closet is his former childhood best friend Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors). He was a rising boxing talent with his sights set on dominating the sport before tragedy sent him to prison for 18 long years. Now, finally a free man, Damian believes he still has what it takes to become the undisputed heavyweight champ. He seeks out Adonis, seductively playing on his former friend’s kindness and guilt to get him a title shot back, even though he’s now a nobody who hasn’t fought anyone outside of jail in almost two decades.
It’s not a secret where this is headed. Adonis feels he is to blame for Damian’s misfortunes. Damian holds it against Adonis that he never reached out to help him while he was incarcerated, not even to say hello. Adonis disregards advice from his mother, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad), and close confidant Tony “Little Duke” Burton (Wood Harris) and finds a way to get Damian the fight he was hoping for, only to discover Damian has been playing him for a sap all along.
The sequel works because these characters are so gosh darn real. Adonis’s evolution is pure. It has grace and maturity. His marriage to singer-songwriter Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is as strong as ever, an unbreakable bond that’s weathered its fair share of catastrophes. They have an adorable daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), and even though she’s deaf, that doesn’t quell the child’s unquenchable curiosity and her energetic desire to follow in her father’s sprightly footsteps.
Creed III also connects because Majors is ferociously extraordinary. (Ever since The Last Black Man in San Francisco, I sound like a broken record whenever I mention his name.) This is a titanic portrait of anger, frustration, pain, and regret. His Damian isn’t so much the villain as the bitter pill that’s been sitting in the back of Adonis’s throat since he was a teenager. Majors dominates, prowling through each scene as if he were a sly, observationally carnivorous velociraptor craftily stalking its prey. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
The melodrama gets laid on a bit thick, but that’s par for the course for this franchise. There are subplots involving Bianca, Mary-Anne, and Amara, not all of which are satisfactorily dealt with yet still make a reasonably strong emotional impression. There’s also some stuff concerning returnee Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), new boxer Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez), and his stern mother Laura (Selenis Leyva), but their scenes only work to help set up the final conflict between Adonis and Damian. On their own, however, most of their moments are sadly forgettable.
As for Jordan, taking a page out of Stallone’s playbook, the actor also steps behind the camera, to sit in the director’s chair, and as debuts go, he shows dynamic promise. He handles the picture with confidence and flair. Jordan brings a unique visual style that’s hard-hitting and magnetic, and his staging of the three main boxing bouts is stunningly unique and viscerally exhausting. He tasks cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau (Creed II) and editors Jessica Baclesse and Tyler Nelson (The Batman) to considerably up their respective games, and their combined excellence is undeniable.
I have no idea if Jordan is interested in keeping this series going the way Stallone was for all six of his initial Rocky escapades. While I would rather he let this be his final statement on Adonis Creed, if any future installments end up as gloriously entertaining as Creed III, I’m not going to complain, especially as it pertains to Jordan’s blossoming directorial career. So, even if it isn’t a knockout, this sequel still packs a pretty wicked punch, and I’ll happily climb back in the ring with Jordan again if the opportunity arises.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)