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Friday, June 21, 2024

Creed 3 Review

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Creed III opens in theaters on March 3, 2023.


The Creed wing of the Rocky franchise has always been about legacy. Adonis Creed’s journey has been one of stepping out from shadows cast by previous generations. With Creed III, though, Michael B. Jordan casts a shadow of his own in his directorial debut, slipping into the director’s chair with the confidence of a heavyweight champ stepping into the ring. It sets us up with everything we’ve come to expect from the series, and knocks us out with an exciting new direction.

One of the difficulties facing Creed III from the jump was how to make another entry into this series feel necessary. Between Rocky and Creed this is the ninth film across 50 years. How do you add to a legacy like that? The answer, as it turns out, is to fully commit to the rebranding of the Rocky series around a new character that started in 2015’s Creed. If these films have been about passing the torch, the third one finds both Michael B. Jordan and his character taking the torch and running with it.

Creed III opens on a flashback to Donnie’s childhood and his friendship with Dame Anderson, a young boxing phenom that’s more like a brother to Adonis. It’s a cold open that efficiently sets the emotional stakes for the rest of its two-hour run. When we catch up to Adonis in present day it’s in his last professional match before retirement, and shortly after that Jonathan Majors, as Damian, returns to his life unexpectedly, upending the comfortable place Adonis has carved out for himself.

To truly bring something fresh to the eighth sequel in a franchise, you have to get what works about it in the first place.


If anybody here is a Rocky fan, that should sound as familiar as a boxer working a speed bag. Structurally, Creed III doesn’t do much to break that mold, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. Jordan’s understanding of the formula that’s brought enduring success to the franchise is actually one of this film’s biggest strengths. To truly bring something fresh to the eighth sequel in a franchise, you have to get what works about it in the first place in order to effectively layer something new on top.

So, yes, of course that means there are some great training montages set to an energizing soundtrack, but it also means we get to see the franchise evolve a little in ways that make sense. It’s a savvy choice for a directorial debut and it shows on screen. On top of an established formula that he can build around, Creed is a character and world he’s obviously intimately familiar with.

The characters around Donnie are all effective foils for his struggles.


The characters around Donnie are all effective foils for his struggles, but they’re not limited to that role. Each of them is given their own agency in serving the story being told. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca is there to challenge him, but she’s also portrayed as somebody dealing with similar issues in a much healthier and productive way. Phylicia Rashaad’s Marry Anne makes mistakes but has her reasons and owns her responsibility for them.

Jonathan Majors as Dame Anderson, though, presents the biggest challenge and most fascinating addition to the Creed-verse yet. To start with, Majors continues his streak of being the most interesting person on screen no matter what he’s in. The chemistry between him and Jordan, made of old bonds and old pain, is the backbone of Creed III. It’s also notable that he doesn’t feel like a pseudo-retcon in a “Drago had a son, too” sort of way. Dame is the part of Donnie’s life he won’t talk about. He’s the past Donnie must deal with to have a future, the character flaw that’s preventing him from being able to fully accept the new phase of his life. While the resolution of their story by the end doesn’t seem like quite the punch Creed III was hoping to land, it’s Majors’ ability to alternate between a well-intentioned old friend and insidious new rival that makes Dame one of the most original antagonists in the franchise.

Creed III is finally, fully passing the torch.


And that’s why it feels like Creed III is finally, fully passing the torch. Where the first two films were about finding your place in other men’s legacies, here Donnie is presented with questions from his own past that need answering, with none of them having to do with his father or with Rocky Balboa. And while there may be some noise made about Sylvester Stallone’s absence here, Creed III does not suffer for it. In fact, it’s because of his absence that Jordan is free to add his most interesting flare.

Creed 3 Photos

Of course, a crucial part of the franchise has always been the fight choreography. How the camera interacts with the fighting has changed over the years, but at the end of the day, what is a boxing movie without rad punching? And for Rocky and Creed the fight scenes – the memorable ones, anyway – work on a few levels. They’re brutal and exciting to watch as well as thematically meaningful to the characters and the story. Without Rocky whispering lessons into Donnie’s ear between rounds, explicitly telling us what this fight is about and what is at stake emotionally, Jordan renders the fight scenes and their themes with fantastical visuals instead.

The climactic match between Donnie and Dame is built on a lifetime of pent-up feelings, anger and guilt, and the sense that what needs settling is between the two of them and nobody else. Visually, Jordan takes us there in a way the franchise has never come close to. He may get docked some points for overreaching, but you can’t say that he pulled any punches with his portrayal of the final fight. It’s a wholly new energy for the Rocky-Creed series, and love it or hate it, the visual flare at minimum makes total sense with the characters and story and sets it apart from the eight movies that came before it.

In a franchise that’s famous for sequels you didn’t expect, the good news and bad with Creed III is that it could be a satisfying conclusion to Donnie’s story. It could also be the third of what might become five or six films that start to run together after a while. (See also: which one was the Hulk Hogan one?) Where Creed III should remain memorable though, is the turning point it represents for Michael B. Jordan and Adonis Creed alike.

Verdict

Creed III is a confident directorial debut from star Michael B. Jordan that shows he’s already achieved a mastery of the formula that’s brought the series so much success. An engrossing new visual dynamic to the fight scenes and a fantastic antagonist in Jonathan Majors’ Dame Anderson elevate it in the legacy of a franchise that’s no stranger to middling sequels. While it may not stray too far from the very familiar format of a Rocky movie, seeing Creed truly begin a legacy of his own apart from Rocky Balboa is an exciting chapter for the series.

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