The long-running Rocky series over the last two movies has morphed into the Creed series. The third installment of Creed manages to throw in a few curveballs to the main character’s backstory and give him a dramatically deeper antagonist to go up against. There’s a bit too much domestic melodrama which isn’t as engaging as the boxing bits when two former friends face down. But when the movie kicks in for an intense slug fest, it is very riveting.
Retired boxing champion Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has settled into a domestic life with his wife, music producer Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) and Creed’s mom, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Returning to Donnie’s life is his childhood best friend, Damian "Dame" Anderson (Johnathan Majors), who went to jail for almost two decades and wants to restart his boxing career. Donnie feels bad for Dame as they were both involved the night Dame went to jail. Surprisingly, Dame is ruthless and brutal in his return to boxing and becomes champion. Now Dame is calling out the retired Donnie for another round, even while Donnie must deal with problems at home, but the spectre of his past is haunting him.
As Sylvester Stallone went on to direct all the Rocky movies, Creed III has the movie’s star, Jordan, as the director. For a feature directorial debut, Jordan makes a film that fits in nicely with the tone of the Rocky and Creed series. It follows the same format as one would expect with a kickass training montage before the finale fight. There’s even some distinctly abstract stylistic flare like when Donnie and Dame are fighting, the entire crowd drops away leaving only Donnie and Dame alone and swinging. When Dame backs Donnie up against the ropes an imaginary fence drops down as Donnie tries to fight back. The series has never gone as abstract as that, which makes it original.
Creed III is also the first Rocky movie without Rocky. When Donnie sets Dame up for his (seemingly improbable) title fight for an untested fighter, Donnie brings up that is exactly what happened when his father Apollo Creed set up the (seemingly improbable) title fight for Rocky in the ‘70s. Although that is the only time Rocky is mentioned in the entire movie, it’s more than a little weird. But Rocky got yet another happy ending in Creed II on top of the other five final happy endings that Rocky already has, it’s fine. His absence isn’t huge but the chemistry between the two characters in the last two movies was fun, leaving Donnie without anyone to bounce off with.
On the antagonist side, Majors Dame makes for a compelling counterpart to Donnie. The dark mirror image bad guy who used to be best friends with the hero is a bit of a creaky cliché but the Rocky series has always traded in creaky clichés. He’s probably one of the more interesting antagonists in all three Creed movies. The boxers Donnie goes up against in the first film are sort of irrelevant as the movie is really about him and Rocky. Donnie going up against Ivan Drago’s son, Viktor, in the second film is very dramatic but that is carried by what happened in Rocky IV. This is the first movie where Donnie goes up against an opponent who knows him from back in the day, and Donnie is giving Dame a shot because he feels bad. In one of the more unique moments in the Rocky series, there’s a meeting between the two rivals after the big final fight and it has a distinct feel of sadness. Majors is very effective as Dame, starting off as a sympathetic sort of weird, traumatized loner, who then starts to match all of Donnie’s achievements. He’s taking away Donnie’s life because Dame feels it was owed to him instead. From Quantumaina to Creed III, Majors is having a great month for bad guys.
Jordan puts in a good performance as Donnie is trying to reinvent himself as a boxing manager. There are some dramatic bits when Donnie reveals what happened decades ago that has been eating away at him. The stuff with Donnie’s family isn’t quite as compelling as the former best friend drama. There’s a bit about Donnie’s deaf daughter and how she is bullied at school so naturally she punches the kid out. The scenes with the daughter use ESL which give the movie some distinct heart with cute bits like when Donnie dresses up for his daughter’s tea party. Thompson as Bianca is good for scenes where she gets testy with Donnie not telling her the truth, however the random bits about her music career feel like filler. Anything with Donnie’s mother amps up the melodrama, although the final scene that Rashad has is very powerful and features some good references to the series history.
Creed III compellingly continues the spin-off franchise and manages to get by without Rocky in it. This may feature a lot of standard moments from the series, but it is excellently done and the conflict between the two boxers is intense, making this a solid boxing drama.
Director: Michael B. Jordan
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu and Phylicia Rashad