Director: Michael B. Jordan
Writers: Keenan Coogler Zach Baylin, Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors
MPAA Rating: 116 mins
Rocky is officially no longer a part of the Rocky franchise. In Creed (2015), Sylvester Stallone’s elderly former boxing sensation passes the torch to the next generation by training up Apollo Creed’s son Adonis played by Michael B. Jordan. With nearly every other entry in the franchise under his direction including Creed, Stallone returned one last time to write and direct Jordan in Creed II (2018), a modern parallel to Rocky IV (1985), involving Ivan Drago’s son Viktor as the opponent. Now, with the advent of Creed III Stallone appears all but removed from the picture as Jordan himself takes over directing duties while still starring as an aging boxing legend in emulation of his predecessor.
Emerging from prison with a chip on his shoulder, Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) finds his childhood friend Adonis Creed to seek out a shot at a professional boxing career having had his prime years stolen from him. This Adonis-Damian relationship, past and present, is the core of the story with the question of how trustworthy Damian is all these years later looming large. Dame is an intriguing wildcard of a character setting up an absorbing predicament as Adonis must wrestle with how to help his friend while maintaining healthy boundaries.
Instead of staying sharply focused on the dynamic of the two men, the film insists on showing Adonis being hen-pecked and distracted by minor familial issues as middle-age pulls him further from his competitive prime. The writers are trying to make him more relatable to the audience but fail to grasp that these lazy subplots are uninteresting. In these instances, the writing ranges from boilerplate, such as Adonis refusing to open up to his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) about past pain, to comically vapid, such as when his daughter literally punches her school bully in the face because she wants to be a boxer like her dad. His strained relationship with his wife over not dealing with stifled emotions and childhood scars is an annoying and pointless distraction inserted to get a “men just go to therapy” angle into the film. Meanwhile, the more interesting subplot involving Adonis’s relationship with his aging mother feels like an afterthought.
However, many people do not go into a boxing movie with a high bar for the interpersonal conflict. Fortunately, the combat sequences are well-executed and sufficiently sweaty, bloody, and hard-hitting even if most of them wrap up rather quickly. The slow-motion shots of hard punches connecting to the face are punishingly engrossing. Despite its distinct Los Angeles setting, the inevitable training montage is one of the more forgettable in the franchise. Attempting to impart a distinguishing visual signature, Jordan frequently infuses a surreal aesthetic into the proceedings turning traditional boxing action into more of an abstract music video experience. Unfortunately, these moments come across more goofy than grandiose. Outside of these highly stylized sequences, the visuals are mostly flat and unnecessarily dark.
Another minor critique worth mentioning is the casting choice for the teenage version of Dame. Spence Moore II (real age 25) plays 18-year-old Damian hardly resembling Jonathan Majors (real age 33) who plays Damian at age 36. Facial structures do not dramatically change between 18 and 36 and choosing an actor already much older than 18 to play the role begs the question of why they could not just have a make-upped or digitally de-aged Majors playing the role at that point. The youthful alternative not resembling his older counterpart is confusing if you do not register their names right away as connecting the two visually is not intuitive.
Though there is much to criticize, the skeleton of Creed III is sturdy and holds together a perfectly serviceable sports drama. However, the uneven amounts of effort put into the various components of the overall filmmaking prevent exceptionalism. Consequently, Creed III is unable to ascend to the higher tiers of the Rocky franchise and is certainly the weakest entry in the latest trilogy of films. Even still, there is a lot here for general audiences to enjoy and I am not going to tell you not to see it though I would not recommend going out of your way to do so.
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