The appeal of the Creed franchise was immediately apparent when the first film came out in 2015, as the filmmakers could use the nostalgia for the ‘80s heyday of the Rocky series and still create something new with the character of Adonis Creed. Creed II followed a similar playbook, bringing back an old Rocky villain and pairing his son in a fight with Adonis.
Creed III finds the series trying something new, with star Michael B. Jordan adding director to his credit for the first time, as well. Adonis has now settled into retirement after winning one final championship fight. Running his old gym in Los Angeles alongside trainer Tony “Little Duke” Burton (Wood Harris), Adonis is living the good life with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), and mother figure Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad).
Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), an old friend who’s been in prison for almost 20 years, shows up, wanting to get his shot at boxing that his conviction prevented. Damian’s presence and actions disrupt Adonis’ relatively calm life, and it’s not long before those disturbances cause a fracture between the two friends, a beef that can only be settled in one place – the boxing ring.
Written by Keenan Coogler (brother of Creed director Ryan Coogler) and Zach Baylin, the film starts off well, giving the story some real gravitas by detailing the checkered history of Adonis and Damian. When the older Damian re-emerges, the hurt he feels is palpable, and Jordan and his team do a great job of establishing the tension between the two characters.
But when we get to the meat of the film, with Damian improbably getting a professional opportunity that other boxers work years to achieve, everything in the story starts to feel truncated. This is the rare film that could stand to be longer, where the addition of a few scenes would allow certain elements of the story more time to breathe and become more impactful.
The film’s three boxing sequences work well, with Jordan using the lessons he learned in the first two films and adding in flourishes of his own. Especially effective are a number of slowed-down moments that allow the audience to visualize the thoughts and instincts of the different boxers. The violence of the sport can often overwhelm the strategy, and these moments do a great job of showing it's not all about how hard someone can punch.
Jordan, as he’s shown multiple times in just the past decade, is a compelling screen presence. This film allows Adonis to be more than just a boxer, and Jordan easily displays all sides of him. Majors is having a big moment in Hollywood right now, and it’s not hard to see why after this role. Unfortunately, Damian becomes less nuanced as the film goes along, taking away from Majors’ performance a bit.
Creed III is not as successful as the first two films in the series, but it has more than its fair share of interesting moments and cinematic fights. With the story holding few surprises, a bit more attention to detail would have given the film the depth it needed.
Creed III opens in theaters on March 3.