“Creed III” was directed by Michael B. Jordan and written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin. Jordan, now in both the ring and the director’s chair, returns as the newly retired Adonis Creed. When an old friend from his childhood named Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) returns after 18 years in prison, Adonis must face the failures of his past as Damian becomes his newest opponent.
I have an enormous soft spot for the “Rocky” franchise. For one thing, it’s the most consistent in cinema history (except for the abomination against humanity that is “Rocky V”), and “Creed III” continues the streak. Even though the plot is almost entirely predictable on paper, the film is executed so well that you’re too engaged to notice.
I’m amazed that this is Jordan’s directorial debut given how much confidence is behind the camera. He always knows how to keep the audience on their toes both on and off the boxing ring. Jordan is definitely an actor’s director, always allowing his cast’s performances to breathe. He doesn’t rush through the scenes, which gives the actors opportunities to really shine and for the tension to build. I was surprised at how methodical the film’s pacing was for the first two acts as well. The script emphasizes character development, intimacy, and a grounded tone above all else, which really worked in the film’s favor.
Jordan’s most noticeable directorial effort, however, is the way he films the fight sequences. In many interviews he’s explained that he wanted to bring a new visual flare to the franchise to keep it from getting stale, so his love of anime inspired him to go outside the box. For example, he uses slow-motion to emphasize the fighters’ techniques and strategies, as well as to simply illustrate the most painful strikes. There’s even some surrealist imagery in some of the fights, especially the final match. I commend Jordan for bringing these brutal and refreshing fights to the franchise.
Michael B. Jordan’s performance is even better than his direction; he’s never been better than in this film, where Adonis is in a more broken and conflicted state than we’ve ever seen him in. Yet Jonathan Majors stole the show as one of the most frightening villains in the whole franchise. Of course, he’s physically opposing as Damian, but there’s more to his performance than that. He created a whole set of mannerisms for the character, such as the unorthodox way he blocks and the vicious contortions of his face. Damian looks like he’s about to devour not only his opponents, but the audience in every fight.
When Damian is outside the ring, Majors is just as brilliant. While we all know he’s going to betray Adonis and fight him in the end, Majors is unpredictable in many of the scenes he’s in. Additionally, whenever Damian is supposed to be calm and charismatic, you can always see the snarl in his eyes and the pent up grudges he holds against Adonis.
Majors was also aided by some terrific character writing. Damian’s motives are entirely understandable and he never becomes cartoonishly evil. When you stop and look at everything from his perspective, he actually makes good points and has completely justifiable reasons for his actions. He’s easily the best villain of the “Creed” films, and might even be the best of all the “Rocky” films as well.
While I loved most of “Creed III,” it has a serious third act issue. The transition to the climatic final boxing match is lazily written and far less realistic than the rest of the film. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say the entire third act relies on one awful scene involving a phone call. The ending felt rushed and unearned, which hurt the overall flow of the film. There’s also a few odd conveniences throughout the film, but nothing as jarring as the rush toward the third act.
That being said, “Creed III” is a proper sequel and one of the best entries in this nearly 50-year-old franchise. Michael B. Jordan gave it his all and I hope to see him continue with future “Creed” films, as well as other original projects. This is an exciting and heartfelt blockbuster which takes its time to grow characters and honors Sylvester Stallone’s legacy, even without him in the movie. I strongly recommend it.