Creed III (2023) Review
In Creed, Ryan Coogler essentially updated his 2015 spin-off that shared the same DNA with the 1976 Oscar-winning Rocky‘s underdog story but he did a great job continuing the franchise’s legacy. Then, in Creed II, Steven Caple Jr. took over Ryan Coogler and gave us a competently made but somewhat lacklustre follow-up that looks as if he was up for a Rocky IV do-over minus the jingoistic overtones.
So, what’s next for the long-awaited Creed III, which finally made a return to the big screen after a five-year absence? Well, it turns out that actor-director Michael B. Jordan — yes, he’s making his directorial debut here — is determined to take the Rocky spin-off to the next level. The kind of a level that isn’t explicitly connected with the Rocky franchise or has to do with Stallone’s Rocky Balboa himself. The latter even marks the first time ever we don’t get Stallone making an appearance whatsoever in the Rocky franchise. While I can’t deny his lack of presence feels awkward, it was nevertheless a good call for doing so since Stallone’s Rocky character arc is pretty much resolved in Creed II.
With Rocky nowhere in sight other than Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) name-dropping at one point in the movie, Creed III continues with the titular character retaining his heavyweight champion title before he decided to call it a day. His glory day as a renowned boxer is over and now, he wants to spend more time with his family (Tessa Thompson’s Bianca and their hearing-impaired daughter, Amara played by Mila Davis-Kent). Still, boxing remains in his blood as we see him managing his prized boxer, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) with the help of his longtime trainer, Tony “Little Duke” Evers (Wood Harris).
It all looks good until the arrival of Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) changes everything. Damian turns out to be Adonis’ childhood friend back in their teenage years (Thaddeus J. Mixson and Spence Moore II play the younger Adonis and Damian respectively). We learn in the extended flashback that they were more than just friends. They were more like brothers who look out for each other but an incident outside a convenience store one night ends up with Damian being sentenced to prison for 18 years.
Then, one day, Damian shows up and caught Adonis by surprise. He is recently released from prison and he’s looking to box again. Adonis is kind enough to let him work out in Duke’s gym, even though Duke doesn’t seem to be happy seeing Damian at all. But Adonis continues to vouch for Damian, figuring that he means no harm. He even introduces him to his wife and his daughter and as the film progresses further, Damian actually has an ulterior motive after all.
The obligatory boxing-movie formula is still present here and frankly, it’s inevitable anyway. But what matters the most is the way Michael B. Jordan turns Creed III into an engaging character-driven drama that is more than just your average boxing movie. Working from a screenplay written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, Jordan does an excellent job establishing the characters and the story from the get-go. This is particularly evident in the brotherhood relationship between Adonis and Damian during the extended flashback and their subsequent rivalry nearly a decade later after they meet again. From their seemingly casual encounter outside the gym and later, all the meeting and catching up in the diner talking about the good old days and such, to the slowly but surely gradual tension between the two of them, Jordan executes the plot like a ticking timebomb waiting to explode.
And when the time comes, we see the eventual boxing match between Adonis and Damian and it was worth the wait. A great payoff after a deliberate set-up and here, we have one of the best boxing sequences ever made in the Rocky franchise. Despite being a first-time director, Jordan proves that he has what it takes to stage thrilling set pieces using the IMAX cameras. This is the first time we get to see a sports film shot with IMAX cameras and it was spectacular to look at. The camerawork is intense and he has a knack for incorporating stylish slow-motion moments of punches. At one point, he even visualises the boxing match as if the fight between him and Damian takes place in a state of mind.
Creed III is also blessed with a superb cast all around. Michael B. Jordan delivers a layered performance as Adonis Creed but it was Jonathan Majors who excels the most here as Damian Anderson. Beneath his somewhat friendly demeanour lies a sneaky and manipulative personality that he looks like a good guy hanging around with Adonis and his family, only to be subsequently revealed his true intention. This, in turn, somehow reminds me of the much-maligned Rocky V. Instead of Stallone’s Rocky taking Tommy “The Machine” Gunn (Tommy Morrison) under his wing but the latter ends up betraying him in favour of the slimy boxing promoter and manager George W. Duke (Richard Gant), we see Damian betrayed him after all the help that Adonis has given to him in the first place. The good news is, Jordan deserves praise for course-correcting — intentional or otherwise — the rushed and patchy storyline that made Rocky V such an embarrassing fiasco.
Although Creed III is no match for the superior 2015 original, kudos to Jordan for bringing the spin-off franchise back to its glory with a top-notch threequel that marks a significant improvement over Steven Caple Jr.’s 2018 sequel.