Review: Creed III
You know a franchise has grown long in the tooth when it is on the third entry of its spinoff. But unlike many a spinoff, the Creed franchise has been marked by quality. Helmed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan, the initial Creed gave the Rocky franchise a modern update to resonate on real-world issues involving race and legacy, all while still utilizing the Rocky formula and paying homage to the past. It worked brilliantly and bolstered the resume of all involved. While the sequel, Creed II, maybe pulled from the worst film of the Rocky franchise and delivered an uneven experience, it still was much better than it could have been.
Now, Creed III arrives as a potential conclusion to Adonis Creed’s story. For the first time in the franchise, Sylvester Stallone does not appear as Rocky Balboa. Michael B. Jordan stars and also directs in his debut. This is a film that is the most distanced from the mythos of the franchise, seeking to commit fully to the Adonis character and his struggles. Jordan bet on himself, and luckily, the bet has mostly paid off. Creed III is a great conclusion to the series (if it indeed is one), wrestling again with real issues and grounding the film in an internal and external conflict that provides plenty of stakes and introspection.
The parallels to Rocky III are there. Adonis is at the top of his game, wealthy and successful and retiring from boxing. A loud-mouthed aggressive boxer appears on the scene and attacks Adonis as a coward, as soft, as a traitor to where he came from. Despite these possible derivative qualities, Creed III distinguishes itself by providing the most personable enemy boxer yet.
Jonathan Majors plays said boxer, Dame Anderson, a childhood friend of Adonis who got sent to prison for nearly two decades. Unlike most films in this franchise where the foe is nothing more than a final obstacle for the erstwhile underdog to tackle, Dame is a real character. It allows the script to serve as a commentary on a struggle in the Black community between those who manage to escape the grind of the slums and those who remain trapped by them. Majors’ Dame feels forgotten and left behind as Adonis lives the life he wanted for himself. This works both on the societal commentary level as well as Adonis’s own personal arc of dealing with guilt about abandoning his friend.
This arc doesn’t always work perfectly. There are some awkward moments in the script, especially in a truncated part of the film after Dame has won his first big match. One gets the sense that this story could have been longer but was edited down for time.
The film still mostly works, despite occasionally feeling rushed. Jordan delivers a great performance, continuing to make Adonis Creed a grounded and realistic character. He’s someone dealing with a lot of his own anger and pain, despite his success, but trying harder to be a great man for his wife and daughter. Those moments with his family add lots of humanity to this character, though one wishes Tessa Thompson had more to do, given that she’s such a great performer. Likewise, Jonathan Majors, who is having a major moment in the past year or so, is more than up to the task of his character. He does such a great job switching between rage and joy, sadness and cruelty. He makes it very easy to empathize with Dame, so much so that the heel turn of the script honestly ends up feeling a little weird. The aforementioned rushed nature of this part of the film likely contributed to that.
While the personal issues of the characters may predictably wind up getting settled in the boxing ring, they aren’t truly settled until a conversation thereafter. Despite using the familiar Rocky fanfare after winning the fight, and indeed using many trappings of the franchise, Creed III also boldly moves forward. In that way, the film exists in a comfortable mid-point of feeling like part of the broader franchise and universe while doing enough new to strike its own path.
Creed III proves that Jordan might have a career in directing. Reportedly inspired by anime, the boxing matches have that same immediacy that Ryan Coogler introduced, but are more stylized in showing how a boxer might find the weaknesses of his opponent. Also, boxing cameos abound for those who are fans of the sport. While the film has its bumps, Creed III is largely a good sports drama and hopefully serves as a good sendoff for Adonis Creed.