Third film in series follows winning formula
Jordan knows what makes the films work and summarily plays the hits
When Ryan Coogler rebooted the Rocky series in 2015 with Creed, it brought a much-needed level of excitement to the stalled franchise and introduced a formidable new pugilist protagonist to allow future films to flourish.
Following a serviceable sequel in 2018, Creed returns five years later with Creed III, a moderate step up from the second chapter that still can’t quite recapture the magic of the first movie. Nevertheless, this boxing series has had all sorts of highs and lows, and these three Creed films have an admirable amount of consistency when it comes to the fundamentals of what makes these kinds of movies work. With stronger dialogue and more detailed characterization, this entry could have hit even harder than it does, but as is, it’s still plenty rousing and a properly engrossing addition to the boxing genre.
Our story begins in Los Angeles 2002, where teenaged Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) works as a corner man for his amateur boxer friend Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors). After we see glimpses of an incident in which Donnie and Dame become entangled, we jump forward to 2020, where Creed caps off his professional boxing career at 27-1. Stepping out of the ring will give him time to focus on training up-and-coming brawlers in his gym and, more importantly, give him more time to spend with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and their hearing-impaired daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). But the reemergence of Dame following an 18-year stint in prison brings back old feelings and scores to settle that can only be remedied by an inevitable bout in the ring.
Incorporating numerous reliable tropes from the Rocky franchise, Creed III follows the formula dutifully and even lifts specific plot points from some of the 1980s films in the series. Plot contrivances are hardly anything new in these movies, and the events and motivations that get Creed and Anderson to the final showdown are fittingly questionable. For the storyline to work, Creed has to spend most of it painfully naïve of both Dame’s intentions as an old friend and his abilities as a boxer. It also requires us to believe that along the way, a bonafide heavyweight like Dame would actually duke it out with a dude who looks like he’s 150 soaking wet for a shot at the title. Florian Munteanu also returns from Creed II, and even though he’s only sparring with Creed this time instead of going into full-on battle once again, his hulking figure is a reminder that these movies do not care about weight classes.
Stepping into the role of director for the first time, Jordan makes occasional missteps with overly obvious visual cues. But on the whole, he adds an impressive visual flair to scenes in and out of the ring. Jordan has talked about the immense influence anime had on his approach to telling this story, and in one specific instance during the climactic feud, the inspiration is apparent and the results are jaw-dropping. Elsewhere, he finds a clever way to showcase the way Amara deals with a bully at school with an unexpected POV perspective. A masterful shot toward the middle of the film shows Donnie and Dame parting after a pre-fight pep talk, in which a wall separates the two and finds the former shorthanded in a more confined space compared to the eminent domain of the latter.
Having been in three of these films, Jordan knows what makes them work and summarily plays the hits. That means we’ll get family tragedy played up with full-force pathos, supposedly shocking upsets, and, of course, training montages that show off the incredible physicality of the principal performers.
I’m not sure how many more Creed movies Jordan will sign on for, but given how long Sylvester Stallone, who, somewhat curiously, doesn’t appear in this movie, held onto his role, I have to imagine he has one or two more in him.
During one of the aforementioned montages, Creed’s trainer remarks that the titular heavyweight is “old and broken,” which would count as the funniest punchline I’ve heard in a movie this year if it had been intended as a joke. Jordan is obviously still in phenomenal shape, and if Creed III is any indication, he’ll have plenty more opportunities in front of and behind the camera for many years to come.
New movies coming to theaters this weekend
Scream VI, starring Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega, is a slasher sequel which finds the survivors of the latest Ghostface killings residing in New York City but still being plagued by a series of murders from a new Ghostface killer.
65, starring Adam Driver and Ariana Greenblatt, is a sci-fi action thriller which follows an astronaut as he crash lands on Earth 65 million years in the past and has to defend himself against dangerous prehistoric creatures.
Champions, starring Woody Harrelson and Kaitlin Olson, is a sports comedy about a temperamental minor-league basketball coach who finds himself in legal trouble and, in order to satisfy a community service requirement, must coach a team of players with intellectual disabilities.