Creed III, the third in the big-screen franchise spun off from the Rocky franchise, marks the feature directorial debut of Creed himself, Michael B. Jordan. As well as delivering another star turn, he proves himself a very competent filmmaker, and Creed III is an entertaining sequel.
As the film opens, we find the former heavyweight champ Adonis Creed living a life of luxury in Los Angeles with wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their young daughter, Amara (charming Mila Davis-Kent). Having retired after beating “Pretty Ricky” Conlon (Anthony Bellew), who bested him in the first film, all is smooth sailing in the Creed camp.
That will change, almost overnight, with the introduction — or re-introduction — into Adonis’s life of Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors). Years before, Damian was a Gold Gloves champ with a bright future, until he and Adonis got into a scrape with the law. Adonis fled, Damian took the heat — and the rap — and has spent almost two decades in the slammer. Now he’s out and he has a plan: Become the heavyweight champion of the world. And his old friend is the key to that plan.
Jordan is not only a terrific actor but a star. The camera loves him, and it may seem surprising that as director he all but cedes the film to Majors. This, however, proves a wise decision, as Majors (a graduate of the UNCSA School of Drama) stakes out his turf with an effectively slow-burning turn. His maneuvering to win the championship is literally Machiavellian, and he ensnares Adonis by playing on his earlier loyalty (even adoration) and, more importantly, his guilt. Damian is a worthy adversary in every sense of the term. Yet for all his sneering bravado, he’s never entirely unsympathetic. Majors is clearly a star on the rise, and this performance is a big boost in that direction.
It is, however, the predictable trajectory of the narrative that ultimately makes Creed III anticlimactic, to say nothing of formulaic. The earlier films, Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018), were a trifle overlong but undeniably rousing and uplifting. Creed III is the shortest of the three yet sometimes feels like the longest, its redemptive notes struck a little less forcefully than before. Still, Jordan and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, clearly relish the film’s almost noir-ish atmosphere and the nifty fight sequences, which still pack a punch (no pun intended).
Reliable Wood Harris is back as the faithful trainer Duke, and Phylicia Rashad enjoys what will likely be her final turn as Adonis’s devoted mother. The domestic scenes are well-handled, but it essentially kills time until Creed’s return to the boxing ring to confront Damian (and his past), where the real fireworks happen — and indeed they do.
There has been some controversy, of sorts, that this is the first film not to feature Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. Much of it seems to have emanated from Stallone himself (who has been vocal in his criticism of series producer Irwin Winkler), but there’s really no place for the character here. Rocky is duly mentioned a few times, but the only conceivably appropriate scenario for his return would be during Adonis’s training. Yet the inevitable training montage is so perfunctory — and predictable — that Rocky would have been relegated to the sidelines in any event. (Stallone does retain a producer and a character possessory credit.)
The climactic championship bout is well-rendered, but is there really any suspense regarding the outcome?
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies. © 2023, Mark Burger.
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