With "Creed," Ryan Coogler took the "Rocky" mythos and created something that felt both comfortably familiar and refreshingly new. I'm from Philadelphia, and I can distinctly remember seeing "Creed" opening weekend with a Philly crowd. Near the end of the film, there's a moment where a knocked-down Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) gets back on his feet as Bill Conti's familiar "Rocky" theme music kicks in. At that moment, the audience — myself included — lost their damn minds, cheering, clapping, slamming their fists down on the armrests of the seats. It felt electric, and it only made the entire film more endearing.
Now here we are with "Creed III," the third entry in what has become a new franchise. One look at the "Rocky" series can tell you this is potentially dangerous ground. While the first "Rocky" is a gritty, down-to-earth drama about a palooka about to take his big shot, the sequels grew sillier and more prone to endless, MTV-style montages. Would "Creed" suffer the same fate? It might have, because the somewhat underwhelming "Creed II" went down a distinctly "Rocky" path, having Adonis fight the son of Ivan Drago, the man who murdered his father Apollo Creed in the ring.
"Creed III," however, attempts to go down a different path. Sort of. When you get right down to it, this film is following the familiar "Rocky" formula. However, it's also trying to distance itself from the Italian Stallion. Unlike the previous two films, Sylvester Stallone has no involvement with this sequel (save for a producer's credit), and Rocky himself never appears and is only mentioned briefly. This may rub some viewers the wrong way, but it makes sense: Rocky was given a happy ending that reunited him with his estranged son in the last movie. What more is there for him to do? Instead, "Creed III" puts Adonis in the Rocky-like role. He's no longer an underdog or a scrappy up-and-comer. He's the champ, and as the film begins, he fights his seemingly last fight and hangs up his gloves, retiring at the top of his game.
A Face From The Past
Now that he's retired, Adonis is ready to train the next generation of fighters. This could've backfired since it's basically the same premise as the dreaded "Rocky V." But "Creed III" is surprisingly grounded, and frequently quiet and reflective. There are long stretches of silence, something the "Rocky" sequels would never stand for — they'd fill that silence with hit pop songs, damn it! Jordan, who is back as Creed, also steps behind the camera to direct here, and his direction is sturdy and solid. Jordan seems to relish the fight scenes most of all, as they enable him to get creative — using slow-motion to highlight body blows, and, in one of the most stunning moments in the movie, having a huge stadium full of people vanish so that only Creed and his opponent are standing, alone, in the ring.
That opponent is Damian "Dame" Anderson, played by Jonathan Majors. Majors is having a moment right now, and deservedly so. He's become one of those "oh, he's great in everything!" actors, and the same is true here. With his killer physique (seriously: how do you get so ripped?) and his raw intensity, Majors strikes an imposing figure, and every moment he's on-screen here is electrifying. It helps that Dame is such a complicated antagonist (it would be wrong to call him a "villain").
Adonis is living the retired life, promoting fighters and spending time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson, given more to do here than in the previous movie) and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). And then Dame shows up. Dame and Adonis were best friends when they were kids, but a series of events lead to Dame being sent to jail for 18 years. Now, he's out, and he wants to connect with his old friend. But he wants more than that: Dame used to box before he was sent to prison, and now he wants a title shot.
Stepping Back Into The Ring
Adonis and Dame seem friendly at first, but you can guess where this is going, even if all the marketing for "Creed III" didn't give it away — the friendship will sour and Adonis will be forced to step back into the ring and duke it out with his old friend.
The predictability keeps "Creed III" from fully taking flight — we know exactly where this is going from the first frame. And yet, Jordan and company are able to rise above that predictability, mostly. It helps that we're invested in how this is all going to shake out, even if we can kind of figure it out ourselves. Jordan and Majors are both dynamite here, commanding the screen and creating palpable tension whenever they share a scene.
Curiously enough, Adonis feels slightly sidelined here. Perhaps it's because Jordan was also behind the camera, or perhaps there's just not much more to say about Adonis Creed. While the character gets some big, emotional moments, you also get the impression that his story is coming to a close. Indeed, I sure hope "Creed" doesn't take the "Rocky" route and pump out sequel after sequel. Whether or not that happens will surely be up to studio execs and box office returns, but if this is the final round for the "Creed" series, it's a fitting, if predictable, end.
/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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