As a die-hard, life-long fan of the Rocky and Creed saga (both Creed films making my ‘Best Of’ lists of their respective years), I truly believed the heartfelt ending to Creed II in which Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) reconciles a form of relationship with his father and Rocky reconnects with his estranged son, was the perfect ending to the overall story. And while I was excited at the prospect of Creed III, there was a sense of hesitation as to how the story could continue after perfect closure.
Right from the opening scene, Jordan’s directorial debut injects a dynamic new energy into this series that took away a lot of my concerns. And despite some of it’s story structure and dramatic flaws, Creed III’s heart is in the right place and is a knock-out addition that would even make Rocky Balboa proud.
Creed has retired as the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world. His achievements in boxing have set up a post-fight career in organising and promotion super-fights that sell out stadiums, wheeling and dealing with the next generation of boxing talent. All the while, Creed is equally thriving in his home life as his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), is now writing music for famed artists, and together raising the daughter, Amara. However, life can’t all be sunshine and rainbows for Adonis.
Damien (Jonathon Majors) has spent the last 18 years in prison after a fateful violent event in their adolescence, saw Damien caught by the police while Creed escapes. All of Damien’s dreams and aspirations of becoming a boxing champion were locked away in a prison cell, while Creed went on to live the life Damien could only dream. Now back out in the world, and after 18 years of no contact, Damien reunites with Creed with one intention: for penance to be paid by giving Damien the chance to fight for a title. Something Creed’s guilt feels obligated to indulge, but his heart is conflicted by.
There is an ambitious boldness to Creed III that is felt by the absence of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky (who unfortunately does not appear in this film). Michael B. Jordan is grabbing this franchise, that sees him return to this character for the third time, step out of the light that has shone over the sentimentality and nostalgia of it’s predecessors by telling a thoughtful, heartfelt story that allows Jordan to stand out, not just an actor, but as a director too.
Where Jordan’s major strength lies is within the boxing scenes, which he has confessed are heavily inspired by his love for anime. These heightened moments, full of dynamic camera work that energetically moves around the screen with such stylised fashion, takes this saga down a visually path that hasn’t been seen before. A slow-motion shot of Creed slipping a punch then ferociously moves to the rib of his opponent as a flying fist makes it’s impact, causing the skin, muscle, and bones to ripple in an almost cartoon like fashion – but never in a way that feels unnatural. In fact, it emphasises the energy and brutality of this primal style of war. Every single punch is felt (with immense help from the bone-crunching sound design), and every fight is exciting as hell!
If Ryan Coogler’s direction of Creed’s fight scenes highlights the flow of boxing, and Steven Caple Jr.’s direction shows the brutality, then Jordan’s direction intimately puts you in the frantic mindset of a boxer, with the heart and energy of a fighter on full display. The intimacy of the camera also is noticeable in the film’s dramatic moments, with Jordan often using tight close ups to really place the audience in the conversations between the characters.
Out of the three Creed films, there is a slight lack of emotional substance comparatively. While the foundations of the relationship between Creed and Damien is quite engaging, the script teeters on the surface a tough too much to ever hit the emotional heights of the films beforehand. The powder-keg chemistry between Jordan and Majors sets the screen alight. But aside from the fantastic opening moments establishing their younger characters and situation, the reasons and event that have led their journeys to where they are in this story often come-and-go in the film with either little fanfare or a lack of time to really let their past traumas sink in. Considering this is a huge element to the story, ultimately acting as the reason their fight is the climatic apex of the film, it’s hard to say it’s as hard-hitting as other stories the Rocky saga has given audiences before, despite the best efforts of Jordan’s direction.
That’s not to say Jordan and Majors aren’t powerhouses in this film, because they truly are. Jordan has Creed’s DNA so engrained in his performance that the evolution of Adonis Creed feels so natural on screen. However, this is Majors’ movie. His performance as Damien is unhinged, both in and out of the ring. The physicality within the God-like, sculpted muscles, and his primal movements in the ring make Damien feel like a genuinely terrifying threat to Creed. And that threat is felt during every moment these characters square off, whether they’re wearing gloves or not. Damien’s backstory also commands empathy from the audience, which is only felt due to Major’s performance.
As always, Tessa Thompson is brilliant. The strong-willed Bianca commands every scene, but seeing her motherly side emerge just adds another emotionally complex layer to her character, and her interactions with Creed give the film it’s grounded nature. The family dynamic between Creed, Bianca, and their daughter, Amara, provide some of the most heart-warming scenes, with young deaf actress, Mila Davis-Kent, stealing the screen every time she is on it.
While it may not feel as emotionally engaging as it’s predecessors, Creed III still captures the heart of the saga with a bold step out from the nostalgia as we follow Adonis Creed truly start his own journey. Michael B. Jordan’s first time behind the camera, especially on a film this big, allows a new sense of dynamic energy to be injected in to the series, especially in the fresh, frantic and vibrant boxing scene. But, the real standout is seeing Jonathon Majors go from strength to strength. And with more performances like this, that man will be seeing an Oscar soon!
Creed III is in Australian cinemas March 2 – courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.