The first two Creed films essentially relayed the story of a man trying to make an impact of his own in the shadow of his famous predecessor. Creed III is also that – though in this case, it’s the film’s star and tyro director Michael B.Jordan who is out to make a mark, as his spin-off series goes it alone without Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky ties for the first time.
As opposed to the first two films in the Creed series, Jordan anchors and steers this latest instalment in the franchise. And while Creed III mightn’t feature Stallone’s legendary ‘Rocky’ character – Sly opted out due to ‘creative differences’ – his golden cuff-links still hang from the spin-off/sequel’s imposing frame.
When we catch up with Adonis Creed (Jordan), he’s in the best place we’ve ever seen him – both professionally and personally. Determined to not only knock the champ off his perch but take some of what he’s got, an old friend (Jonathan Majors) carrying a major grudge turns up at the gym in what’s the first stop on the parole’s ‘you are going down, Adonis’ tour.
Where Creed III hits hardest is in Jordan’s very professional, almost unimaginably super-skilled directing. Some artistic choices may be questioned by Rocky purists – particularly one moment towards the film’s finale, which though brilliantly lit and captured, is a dicey move considering where and how it plays – but Jordan shows real proficiency behind the lens, clearly having picked up some tips from his predecessor and friend Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Black Panther, Creed) on how to make even a humble exposition or montage moment pop with striking visuals and clever framing. While he does need to restrain himself from too much slick, frequent edits in such sequences (let them breathe, sir!), he impresses with his pulsating, very impact fight sequences.
Coupled with Kramer Morgenthau’s picturesque cinematography, and Jahmin Assa’s superb production design, Jordan proves he’s more than worthy of DGA membership.
The Black Panther alum shows real strength as a performer too, showing real signs of growth and maturity in this third go-round as the conflicted but still wiser Creed Jr. You do feel that his Adonis Creed has equally grown and mature since we first met him as the angry, confused young man in the original.
Where Jordan is showed up though, performance-wise, is in any scene with rising newcomer Jonathan Majors (Ant-Man and the Wasp : Quantumania, Devotion) who, as one of the more interesting and fully formed villains in the Rocky series, brings real authenticity, intensity and dustings of charm to scarred beast, Denny. Majors has taken a character that was likely your token ‘mixed up’ rogue on paper but with even a simple look or slowly arched creak of the mouth, the “Lovecraft Country” alum manages to give one of the most compelling and memorable turns in any mainstream film of the past twelve months. We’re in ‘Denzel as Clubber Lang’ territory here! – he’s that solid.
Even such weighty, believable supporting turns by Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Wood Harris, and young Mila Davis-Kent, fade like Mickey in a locker room once Majors enters frame. He’s truly the standout of the picture. A knockout if you will.
Where Creed III might be let down as a picture is in Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin’s screenplay. While Jordan makes a much better picture than this yarn likely read on paper (and it’s a considerably more captivating picture than the remarkably fan-friendly Creed II), there’s more than a few beats in the film that aren’t just expectedly formulaic but seem to be directly cribbed from some of Sly’s Rocky sequels – in particular, major plot points (and even some sequences! – you’ll spot them!) from the fourth and fifth instalments. If Stallone walked for any reason, it may likely have been because he didn’t feel Creed III wanted to do much more than do an urban retelling of the Rocky sequels.
If he does see the film eventually, and at this point he says he has no interest, Stallone will discover it’s a movie light years ahead of its logline and dutiful pilfering though. Sure, the big man’s absence is felt here at times, particularly in a few key scenes that would’ve benefited from Balboa showing up, but Jordan manages to serve up such an impactful, utterly enjoyable film that you’ll forgive the Italian stallion for not stopping by to wish Apollo’s son ‘luck’ in his latest bout.