By: Adam Freed
The most shocking aspects of Creed III are how fresh the film feels as a third installment and the refinement of its presentation considering it is the directorial debut of the franchise’s leading man Michael B. Jordan. Jordan has now played titular hero Adonis Creed thrice, to universal approval, but this marks his first time doing so without the help of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, the acorn from which two mighty franchise oaks have grown. With all respect due to screen legend Stallone, this film and its director were ready to spread wings of their own.
What elevates the third Creed film above the previous offering is the script penned by Keenan Coogler, brother of powerhouse director, and now franchise producer Ryan Coogler. Coogler’s story forces audiences to reflect on the nature of survivor’s guilt, and question how much is owed to childhood loyalties in an adult world. It is in the crosshairs of these themes that Creed III plants its flag in the form of foe Damian Anderson. Actor Jonathan Majors elevates the role of foil to new heights in Rocky / Creed lore. Where prior attempts at the “big bad” have presented as static, Majors injects Anderson with a human depth that at first presents sympathetic and sincere. There is no hurry in script or actor to peel back the layers to “Dame” Anderson, but all sentiment is rendered asunder as second generation boxing trainer Duke impassions, “He is telling you who he is, BELIEVE HIM,” wisdom that is lost on Adonis, until it is too late.
Boxing films do not work unless the combat can be felt and believed. To have achieved both here is laudable for Jordan the director and Jordan the star. Despite MBJ’s innovative filmmaking and clear knack for storytelling prowess (see an early flashback that includes a masterful needle drop of Dr. Dre’s The Watcher) it is Jonathan Majors that forces the film to be considered beyond the level of serviceable sequel. In the ring, Majors is the embodiment of class warfare, a former inmate with an insatiable desire for devastation. Dismissed by society and by his childhood friend, Dame seeks his vengeance on a violent warpath against both Adonis Creed and upon the upper crust of society that Creed has grown to represent. Majors’ physicality seems to be permanently fighting downhill, which is startling in contrast to his initial soft and smiling approachability. Dame is every bit a pit bull, often playful, always deadly.
From high atop his opulent existence overlooking a glistening Los Angeles, Adonis Creed is forced to face his survivors' guilt. In true genre fashion, this comes by way of expertly crafted crosscut montage and the eternally motivating reality that it has always been from the bottom of the hill that all great quests begin. It is much more peaceful to ignore the past than to address it. Far more manageable to suppress guilt than to process it. Easier to slowly succumb to age than to attempt to defy its inevitability. What makes Creed III enthralling, it is a far more relatable human story than one that is simply about boxing.