A legacy continues; a torch has been passed on in a franchise that has captured audiences’ hearts and souls ever since Bill Conti’s rousing theme became ensconced on Rocky some forty-seven years ago. Michael B. Jordan, who shook the world with his electrifying performance in 2015’s Creed, makes his feature film directorial debut in Creed III.
Jordan, who also stars as Adonis “Donnie” Creed, has a hard right hook behind the camera and is no less potent in front of the camera. Set as a direct sequel to 2018’s Creed II, the ninth film in the Rocky series sees the character balancing family with a threat from his past. Tessa Thompson returns as Bianca Taylor, Donnie’s wife. Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin’s script uses the strength and strain of their relationship as a foundation for this story.
Damian “Dame” Anderson, played by Jonathan Majors, has resurfaced following a lengthy prison sentence. Coogler and Baylin go to lengths to demonstrate the boxing prodigy Dame was set to become had he not gone to jail. In his second turn as a villain this year, Majors is sublime. He is every bit as muscular and jocular as other foes that have been a part of the Rocky film series. He is far more melodramatic than previous foes in the Creed series, focusing on getting his shot in the ring, no matter the expense.
The story lays out the two friends’ backgrounds early on, and when Dame surfaces, it is slightly awkward; so much time has passed between them that Donnie does not recognize his old friend. Coogler and Baylin inject a wealth divide between the two characters even though it suggests they are competitively on equal footing.
Bianca’s music career is still blossoming, and like Donnie, she’s moved on from performing and into producing, helping younger talent to be recognized and elevate their careers. This is one of the parallels that exist between Donnie and Bianca. The story confronts it head-on in one scene but meanders throughout most of the film, especially when Dame meets Bianca for the first time. Bianca’s daughter, Amara, is perhaps the best part of this film in that she reminds us of what the next generation is capable of and how they reflect parental values and influences. Phylicia Rashad returns as Mary Anne Creed.
Wood Harris returns as Tony “Little Duke” Evers, the film’s conscience, constantly reminding Donnie of the danger that Dame presents to him and his image. Coogler and Baylin don’t paint Donnie into a corner, though – he might lack the judgment and experience to see what Dame represents, but a good portion of the story is dedicated to that aspect of Donnie’s arc, and Jordan plays it well.
Creed III is a stronger film than Creed II; we are treated to more effectively-drawn characters and situations. Majors is undoubtedly the highlight and better framed as an actor and personality than his turn as Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Yet, for all that works, Creed III straddles the formulaic nature of the Rocky films. The emotional beats are earned for the most part, and it reflects a natural evolution of the series over forty-seven years, breaking. It lacks the spirited zest and zeal that made the first three Rocky films so endearing to audiences. Similarly, the bouts are more vital than ever, reflecting a balance between the legacy that has been while carrying the torch, metaphorically. Pacing in Creed III is a sticking point as the story navigates through the characters’ complexities, despite the lean 116-minute run time.
Jordan has an excellent eye as a director, and the hope is that Creed III will earn him additional, bigger directing gigs down the road. Audience excitement and expectations are high, understandably so.
Creed III is not a TKO, though it reflects on its heritage, honors it, and pushes Creed in a different direction than Balboa ever did. Michael B. Jordan’s future as a director is bright. Jonathan Majors shines
Directed by Michael B. Jordan
Screenplay by Keenan Coogler & Zach Baylin
Story by Ryan Coogler and Keenan Coogler & Zach Baylin, based on Characters created by Sylvester Stallone
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Mila Davis-Kent
PG-13, 116 mins, MGM/UAR