Creed III

It makes total sense for star Michael B. Jordan to handle directorial duties on Creed III. After all, the series is a spinoff of the Rocky franchise, which Sylvester Stallone directed most installments of (except for the original and Rocky V). Precedent exists for this sort of thing to happen. More importantly, Jordan knows the character of Adonis Creed better than anyone, so allowing him to advance the boxer’s storyline is a no-brainer. He does a fine job, too, hitting the right balance between fighting action and human moments. Nothing could top the original Creed, but this is still a worthy sequel.

We find Adonis retired at the movie’s start. He runs a gym, training other boxers. Wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has had a career shift, too. Instead of performing, she writes music and produces for other artists. (Cue a cameo from Kehlani.) Their focus is on raising hearing-impaired daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Adonis comes out of the gym one afternoon to find a guy leaning on his car. That guy is Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a figure from his troubled past. Damian is fresh out of prison after 20 years. Jail time cut his burgeoning boxing career short, and now he wants another crack at it.

Adonis agrees to let him train. That’s not enough. Damian wants to jump straight to a title match, refusing to accept that there are requisite steps to be taken in that direction. As if that wasn’t sufficiently concerning, he also displays ruthlessness in the ring once he does land a match, delivering blows that are borderline improper. Adonis lets these things slide, believing he owes a debt to his old friend because of something that occurred when they were kids. Relations between the men eventually sour, and the only way to resolve the issue is – big surprise – to duke it out for the championship.

Creed III is very much about dealing with your past. Through flashbacks, we learn about the incident that shaped both Adonis’s and Damian’s lives. This revelation goes a long way toward explaining their individual perspectives. Adonis has a sense of guilt that he’s been trying to run from. Damian holds a significant amount of anger from having his future delayed for 20 years. The movie contains a number of good scenes between the men, some where they’re subtly trying to heal each other, some where they’re at odds. Michael B. Jordan is again excellent in the lead role. Jonathan Majors proves an excellent addition to the saga, bringing a level of intensity that drives the drama. He conveys Damien’s belief that he’s owed a shot at the big time.

Fight sequences in the film are excellent. As director, Jordan has his camera bob and weave in the ring, right along with the boxers. He switches to slow-motion in spots, in order to emphasize how hard a hit lands. You can practically feel the blows from your theater seat. And because of the emphasis he puts on the story, it actually has weight when Adonis and Damian square off during the finale. We understand the personal stakes for them.

A brief portion of the climactic bout detours into surreal territory, which is an odd choice. Staging of the fight remains effective, but going this route diminishes the impact of the competition for a minute or two. It’s also hard to deny that the plot manipulates to get Adonis to put his gloves on again. The film asks us to just accept a few shortcuts. Of course, we’d be disappointed if he didn’t, so maybe that isn’t a cardinal sin.

Creed III shows that there’s still life left in the franchise. The movie stays true to the tone of its predecessors, while adding an appealing new antagonist. At the end, a winner is announced. How Adonis and Damian have changed is what provides the real resolution, though.

out of four

Creed III is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence, and some strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.