'Creed III' review: Rousing trilogy capper packs an emotional punch
Courtesy of MGM
What are we to do when the sins of our past come back to haunt us? That seems to be the moral complex at the center of “Creed III,” the rousing, emotionally stirring third chapter in the explosive boxing franchise that’s also directed by its lead star, Michael B. Jordan, his feature directing debut. A major improvement over the serviceable, but minimalist “Creed II,” and though not quite as great as Ryan Coogler’s 2015 original, “Creed III” still has something its predecessors did not: a believable adversary with a grimy, sadistic edge and expansive backstory. “Creed III” features many of the same melodramatic plot points of past “Rocky” films, but it’s the addition of Jonathan Majors (currently on screen giving Ant-Man and the Avengers a run for their money and who is having a moment) that punches up the stakes of a franchise that needed a fresh direction.
“Creed” and “Creed II,” both about Adonis Creed coming into his own, laid a solid foundation for “Creed III,” and it’s the perfect vehicle for Jordan to unfurl his filmmaking influences, including several anime inspired boxing sequences (the climactic fight does not disappoint). The third installment, which lets Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa sit on the sidelines, finds Adonis enjoying life outside of the ring. Having hung up the gloves, retirement is treating him good: from tea parties with his daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), fostering the next generation of boxing talent, and helping his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson) with her music producing career, life is going great.
So naturally, there needs to be cog in the wrench. Enter Damian Anderson (Majors), who shows up out-of-the-blue after an 18-year stint behind bars. The two were inseparable growing up and Dame had dreams of contending for a national title before his unexpected brush up with the law. Now, two decades removed from the incident that ruined their childhoods, Damian’s biological clock is ticking and he wants a shot at redemption.
Survivor's guilt ultimately gets the better of Adonis, reminiscing about how his father once gave the then unknown Rocky a chance to prove himself, and he puts Damian in the ring with a current champ (Jose Benavizez) that ends in bloodshed. Tensions rise to the surface until Adonis decides to suit up and train for the fight of his life.
As cheesy and formulaic as that sounds (and trust me, every narrative beat is carefully curated) the core of “Creed III,” dealing with the monster of your own creation, elevates it beyond the litany of boxing films where you could care less about who was throwing the punches. Whenever Majors and Jordan are paired together, the chemistry is magnetic, like two real heavyweights duking it out for ultimate supremacy. At times, it’s hard to pick a side considering both have legitimate reasons for stepping back into the ring.
“Creed III” is also grounded in a way the other two were not: mainly with the inclusion of Adonis’s deaf daughter who looks to her dad for inspiration. A touching moment where the dad teaches his daughter about upper right cuts and the timing and focus of a match really lands its mark. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Jordan shows real poise behind the camera too, creating an immersive big-screen showdown worthy of the hype teased throughout the movie. One might roll their eyes at the obvious parallels of the past films, but “Creed III” doesn’t fall into the trilogy slump. It knows how to propel the story forward without taking steps back and the fantastical elements woven into the final sequence is the type of freshness more rebooted franchises could use. Throw in Major’s rock solid screen presence and “Creed III” is a real contender for the best sequel of the “Rocky” era.
CREED III opens in theaters Friday, March 3rd.