"Creed III" Swings Big and Lands Hard
Oh, it's a contender alright.
Adonis Creed, the heir to the Apollo Creed legacy and a legend in his own right, has retired from the ring, going out as champion, and settled down with his wife and daughter at the start of Creed III. He has traded in his boxing gloves for tea parties with his little one and has gone from training & fighting to coaching & producing. This path appears to be a little like its lead actor, Michael B. Jordan, and his turn as the director of this very movie, which is his first outing as a feature filmmaker. If his acting role and his job as a director are to be compared, I’d say that both are absolutely confident in their abilities, and still have room to accomplish greatness, no matter age or lack of experience. Adonis is barely past his prime, but Jordan himself is still there.
This Rocky-less movie in an overall shared franchise with Sylvester Stallone’s sports series is pretty incredible. As with most threequels, it’s the story of going back to the beginning, of the past coming to the present, and having to finish up loose ends. On top of that framework, Creed III punches up, being the best-written, best-performed, and most dramatic entry yet. It’s big, it’s personal, and it’s strong.
Jonathan Majors plays Damien, an ex-con of about eighteen years and an old childhood friend to Adonis, who he hasn’t seen since being locked up. Transitioning back into society, he and Adonis hit things off awkwardly, but with some initial joy too. Majors is absolutely fierce, and it’s amazing how Creed III is just as much his movie as it’s Jordan’s, either intentionally or by sheer will & force. The movie is driven at full speed by both men’s performances, but it’s Majors who rules the picture.
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Take their diner scene as an example. Damien is about to destroy a burger for the first time out of jail, and Adonis is practically shaking at seeing not just his friend, but his own childhood represented in front of his eyes. They catch up, and all the while Damien’s body language sends a signal of thick-skinned vulnerability and a bundle of nerves running through. When Adonis offers him a spot at his gym, Damien, who was once a Golden Gloves youth boxer, grins happily from ear to ear, before changing to a serious expression and sincerely thanking him. I believed Majors at that moment and sensed a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“He’s telling you who he is. Believe him,” the gym’s coach says. But Adonis doesn’t heed the warning about Damien, and off we go into the dark of night.
While it was filmed for IMAX, and stunningly so - shot and lit to make the best use of blood & sweat glistening off of skin & muscle - Creed III has more in common with smaller independent films than I thought it would. This makes sense in hindsight, as Michael B. Jordan did work with Ryan Coogler, known for the first Creed and the Black Panther films, on the intimate Fruitvale Station. This is about characters, about people, first & foremost. Everything else, from the spectacle to the choreography, are just enhancements, excellent as they are.
There is a formula that is followed though, and things do get predictable around the middle of the film. Is it playing things safe? Maybe a little. But the efforts of Majors and Jordan in navigating the formula and making the predictable interesting & thrilling should not… will not be ignored. It’s hard to stare away from the screen when they’re together, and even harder when Majors is flying solo. Creed III could be an awards contender. It should be an awards contender.
The idea of a man in his mid-30s being able to retire makes me jealous, but it’s in a movie, so I’ll cheer along. Without Stallone, will audiences cheer too? I bet they will. It’s Michael B. Jordan’s story now, as Stallone himself said in the previous film. And it’s safe in his
hands gloves. 4/5
Creed III comes to theatres on March 3rd.