CREED III – Review

Creed III, the directorial debut of Michael B. Jordan, is a film that masterfully balances the complexity of family life and the dangers one’s past might hold. Several years after retiring from his career as the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Adonis Creed now spends most of his time coaching and promoting the next champion in Felix Chavez, all while tending to his responsibilities as a husband and father. The bond Adonis shares with his daughter in particular is both powerful and memorable, and a wonderful next step in the life of this character’s journey. Despite flourishing as both father and coach, a bombshell is dropped on his lap when his old friend Damian Anderson shows up, having just been released from an 18 year stint in prison. This sends Adonis into a spiral of guilt, fear, and pain that affects every aspect of his life.

It’s very much a film about confronting ones past and facing the demons you’ve helped create, as a traumatic memory that he’s tried his utmost to forget and bury behind him now comes back to haunt him. An up and coming boxer himself before being thrown into prison, his friend Damian now relentlessly attempts to make up for his lost time in the cell. His wasted years are hard not to sympathize with as an audience member – and to take a quote from Brando, he “coulda been a contender,” had he not been locked up in his prime. Boxing is a young man’s sport ultimately, and Damian is now fighting against his age to prove to himself and the world that he still has a shot at the title. This, coupled with a lifetime of anger, a penchant for cheating to get what he wants, and the jealousy of a man who’s watched someone else live out the life of his dreams, make “Dame” a fascinatingly complex antagonist. Jonathan Majors’ onscreen gravity in the role is nothing short of immense, and unsurprisingly he brings Damian to life with particular ease here.

The flashbacks to Damian and Adonis’ youth were mostly fascinating, but left me feeling as though we were only getting a portion of the story, and I never felt as though we learned enough about the motivations that got Damian imprisoned in the first place to absolve or fully forgive either of their actions. But the shared memories of these once-brothers who now butt heads made for one of the more compelling antagonists in Rocky history; Damian is easily the most introspective and personal villain to date, as he’s quite literally been forged under the shadow of Adonis’ success. This decades-old bad blood dynamic found its way into the actual boxing elements in ways I could never have expected, and Jordan comes out swinging with his unique vision of two men fighting for their lives in the ring. Between the stunning close-quarter camerawork and the drive to tell a compelling narrative through the eyes of both fighters, he creates a third act match quite unlike anything you’ve experienced in the Rocky saga.

There is a bit of a missed Chekhov’s gun moment where we’re trained to assume early on that Damian is willing to punch below the belt and do everything in his power to get his way, but this seems to be mostly forgotten by the film’s end. What we received in its place is a matchup that’s fundamentally unique to the saga in that we witness two once-friends punch out 18 years of pent up emotion on each other. The film does an excellent job of letting you know this fight is much more than a just a Championship title to these two titans, and the drama within the ring is so emotionally fraught you’ll begin to feel bad about rooting for Creed.

Creed III takes a while to find its footing after a strong first half, and I was surprisingly unmoved by the obligatory training montage we were given. Perhaps it was the tone of the moment or the fact that the montage shared more lows than it did highs, but its crescendo into the final fight didn’t feel entirely earned. It also may just be that the reviewer sitting next to me in the private screening I attended literally fell asleep at this point in the film, but I digress. The loss of composer Ludwig Göransson to scheduling conflicts also hurt my viewing a tad, as the score simply didn’t have the particular voice and energy that Göransson brought to the first two Creed installments, but there was the occasional callback or theme from past films that Joseph Shirley was able to pull which really elevate the narrative.

The aspect of Creed III I was most curious about was how the script would navigate around the absence of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, one of the most beloved characters in all of cinema history. Rocky had a large presence in the previous two movies and I went in worrying this would hinder the film in some meaningful way for me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. By untethering this story from the world that revolves around Rocky, Creed III fully becomes a film about the growth of our titular hero, and this allowed for some serious creative freedom. It is apparent Rocky Balboa was originally written into the story for a certain scene, but the role was given to another when Stallone chose not to go there – a decision I understand, and an impediment deftly traversed around by Jordan and his team.

The Creed films have always played off of the Rocky formula, taking riffs from previous films and making another thing entirely out of it. Creed III is no different, as it strongly takes the base elements of Rocky’s I, III, and V, and twists it into something wholly distinct. Without spoiling this particular tease further, all I’ll say is the way the film utilizes these classic Rocky tropes is incredibly refreshing.

Rating: 8/10

2 thoughts on “CREED III – Review

  1. How nice to read a long-form film review from you again. I always enjoy reading them – I think your last one must have been Weathering with You. This reads more professionally than a few thoughts dropped on Twitter; which I’m always keen to see, though they can sometimes be about such a specific element of the film that I don’t really have a response.

    I’ve never actually seen any of the Rocky films – do you think need I to if I’m going to watch Creed III? If I knew where they were streaming, I’d at least consider it.

    Like

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