Creed III and all the images you see in this review are owned by MGM Pictures
Directed by Michael B Jordan
Who would have expected that we’d get two movies back to back starring Jonathan Majors, and even more unlikely that there are a lot of similarities between the two? Perhaps it’ll be worth probing into those odd connections later, but for now, we’re here to talk about the latest entry in the Creed franchise and the directorial debut of its star, Michael B Jordan! He’s got some big shoes to fill; not only with this being the latest entry in the venerable Rocky series but also coming in after Ryan Coogler and Steven Caple Jr left their own marks on the franchise. Is it a worthy successor to everything that came before it, or is the Creed franchise destined to repeat the mistakes that the Rocky movies made once they got a few sequels in? Let’s find out!!
Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is on top of the world as the boxing champ and has decided to retire while he still can, so instead of preparing for yet another fight he’s training an up-and-coming talent (José Benavidez Jr) with the help of Little Duke (Wood Harris) and the only thing that could get in their way is… I don’t know, perhaps a part of Creed’s past coming back to haunt him. Then again, what are the chances of that, am I right? Oh, wait, it looks like an old friend of his just got out of jail and is throwing more than a few subtle hints that he wants a shot at the title. Yes, the blast from the past turns out to be a guy named Damien (Jonathan Majors) who seems cool at first as Creed’s longtime friend who’s ready to turn his life around, but he ultimately lives up to the name and before long he ends up on top of the boxing world under very dubious circumstances. Creed having to confront his past brings up some very mixed feelings that start to affect his relationship with his wife and daughter (Tessa Thompson and Mila Davis-Kent) and when it comes down to it, does he have what it takes to set Damien straight and stop a monster that he has inadvertently created? Will his family be able to follow him on his path to redemption, or are the wounds of the past too deep for them to heal? Sure, this guy beat Drago Jr, but I don’t know; maybe Kang the Conqueror is just a hair outside of his league?
It’s never easy to try and convey how enjoyable a movie is when you have to go over its problems with a fine-tooth comb, so let me say upfront that this movie is still an absolute joy to watch. Its flaws, of which there are significant ones, didn’t exactly leave me disappointed by more so contemplative about what a movie like this is trying to accomplish and how it goes about achieving it. Even more than the last Creed movie, I was once again reminded of Rocky II; not so much for the story itself which is frankly unlike any other Rocky movie, but for the flawed attempt to merge two completely different themes together into one story. The core narrative in this movie is the relationship between Adonis and Damian which is captivating and nuanced even if it’s covering some fairly standard Man-Movie clichés. A debt is owed, but to what extent can it be paid? Can guilt be assuaged without torching your entire life? Can a true understanding be found between two people in a fight, or will the rage consume them both? It’s great material for a boxing movie and its ground that the previous films never truly covered as Rocky has never had to contend with mistakes in his past or his own privilege which in hindsight feels like something of a missed opportunity that this latest film thankfully rectifies. Jordan continues to be fantastic in this part and his direction takes a few creative swerves that differentiate this from the rest of the series, but it’s Jonathan Majors who holds this movie in the palm of his hand with a genuinely difficult performance that manages to go from sympathetic to megalomaniacal in a way that feels earned given what we know about the character and his rough history. If the movie was about these two circling each other’s bruised egos before exploding into a final confrontation of macho rage, then this could have been one of the best films in the series. Unfortunately, the filmmakers aim a little higher than this movie needed to and added some elements that just don’t fit with the core tenants of the story. Everything involving Adonis’s family is pointing us to the exact opposite thematic beats and the film is unable to gel them with how his struggle with Damien is supposed to end. His daughter is getting into fights at school, he’s being distant from Bianca, and he’s even realizing that his mother has sheltered him in ways that he didn’t approve of; all of which are sending us the message that Adonis is not in control of his emotions and that his success has left him ignorant of his own failings as a father and husband. So how does any of that square with Adonis needing to get back in the ring one more time to settle his conflicts with Damien? Well, it doesn’t and the movie feels incomplete with no proper resolution to his daughter’s violent streak and a very clumsy wrap-up for his marital issues. This is where the movie most resembles Rocky II which similarly had to work around its own themes to justify the big fight at the end. In reality, Rocky II should be a tragedy as Rocky having to get back in the ring is a sign that he has failed to find a way to escape that life and provide for his family at the same time. Instead, it ends on a big triumphant note that is certainly the more crowd-pleasing option but feels somewhat hollow and I think that same issue applies to this film which certainly gives us a heck of a fight at the end but at the cost of the message that the rest of the movie is trying to send.
I started this review by comparing this to Ant-Man 3, and much like the MCU I’ve been a fan of the Rocky movies for a very long time. Both the Ant-Man and Creed offshoots of their larger franchises work their best when they get back to basics and focus on characters instead of over-the-top myth-making spectacle with Creed II in particular finding a way to turn the utterly ludicrous characters and setup from Rocky IV into something genuine and emotionally resonate. The latest Ant-Man faltered in its overall narrative structure but made up for it with some brilliant key moments and a captivating performance by Jonathan Majors, and sure enough, this movie also has its fair share of narrative issues, but Jonathan Majors is a phenomenal addition and carries this movie whenever the rest of it falls a bit short. I don’t know if a Creed IV will end up as ridiculous as Rocky IV, but it’s clear that there’s still passion in this franchise, and whatever faults are there don’t detract significantly from what the series has always excelled at and that’s where the comparisons to Ant-Man 3 end which couldn’t overcome its wonky story. It’s not the best we’ve seen from the Creed films as the narrative shortcomings prevent it from reaching the lofty heights of the first one, but for the sheer spectacle. it manages to outclass plenty of other blockbusters with bigger budgets and higher stakes; though I’m still holding out hope that this gets folded into the MCU somehow. What? The multiverse is a big place, and don’t you want Kang to have some sweet boxing moves!?