It’s pretty incredible that a humble story from the 80s about an underdog boxer from Philly is still going strong some 40 years later. Though the “Creed” series shifts the focus from franchise founder to a newer, younger protagonist, it maintains the eye of the tiger spirit that continues to endear the tried and true story to audiences. MGM’s “Creed III” largely succeeds in this momentum, keeping the heart at the center of its narrative and using boxing as a vehicle to deliver its themes.
As a “Creed II” apologist, the third entry in the franchise is my least favorite. “Creed III” is rather messy, largely due to Michael B. Jordan‘s shortcomings in the director’s chair. His debut efforts leave a lot to be desired, and cause the stakes to never feel quite as impactful as they should be. Though somewhat hollow, “Creed III” still packs a punch and stays thrilling even if it doesn’t load up on the right hook enough to be a knockout.
Directed by Jordan (who also reprises his role) from a screenplay by Keenan Coogler (“Space Jam: Legacy” and Ryan Coogler‘s brother), “Creed III” returns to the world of Adonis Creed and his career. After successfully becoming a champion in his final fight, Adonis retires from boxing to run his gym and be a fight promoter under his own promotion. As he gears up to promote a huge championship fight, his past comes back to haunt him in the form of Damian Anderson (Johnathan Majors). The past they shared both make and break their friendship, and things fracture and escalate quickly. Adonis now must face his own demons and reconcile his own past before Damian takes everything. Creed must fight for everything he has, even if it means returning to the ring for one last battle.
There’s a lot to like in “Creed III.” For starters, it is the first of the franchise to entirely belonged to Adonis (Jordan) and his story. Though there is a gigantic Rocky-shaped hole in the middle of this whole thing, there’s enough to mine from Creed’s past to truly have an identity of his own. It is a genuine furthering (and conclusion) of the legacy franchise, and owns the contained narrative to relatively successful effect. “Creed III” also has the additional benefit of Majors as Damian “Dame” Anderson. Though on paper, Dame is a rather flat and generic antagonist, Majors once again proves why he is one of the best actors working today. The man is simply electric and undeniably compelling, and his villainous charm and charisma oozes from the giant IMAX screen with every single moment he’s on it. Majors also brings out the best in Jordan, who I’ve always found to be rather one note and generally rough around the edges. Though the “Creed” franchise as whole displays the better part of his talents, Majors seems to bring out the absolute best in Jordan, who also shines in “Creed III” when facing off against his latest foe.
The film also takes some rather unique risks, some of which pay off and some of which don’t. I’m going to stick with the good here for a little bit longer. Jordan’s anime influences that dictate his direction delivers some riveting fight sequences, especially on the larger IMAX screen format (with which it was filmed). Every beed of sweat feels like “Avatar” in its immersion, and the clever use of slo-mo to capture impactful punches and momentum swings truly thrill. “Creed III” blends the mental and physical war and toll of a fighter in a fight, and both Majors and Jordan wear their emotions on their hulking shoulders. Of course, Tessa Thompson is always a delight, and the handling of Creed’s family dynamic demonstrates that Jordan himself is invested in this part of the story and wants it be done right and with purpose. Though largely pushed to the sidelines to focus on Adonis, Thompson is still very much the pillar of strength behind every decision Adonis makes in “Creed III.”
Where it excels is always where it falls flat, particularly in the 3rd act. “Creed III’s” messy narrative is due to Jordan’s imbalance of ambition over execution. The stakes dissipate rather quickly, and end up rushing everything towards its climax with such a tonal shift in pacing it becomes hard to feel invested in the outcome. There’s a hollowness overall, with much of “Creed III” being far more style over substance. The anime influences overshadow the heart that, though generic, feels primed and ready to have a lasting impression. Sadly, it does not, and the conclusion putters out with all flash, no bang. The story of true friends turned enemies and the arcs of redemption, forgiveness and guilt permeate every facet of the story, but never quite come together in any meaningful way. Jordan seems more interested creating epic looking moments instead of developing his characters and making their arcs worth remembering.
There is so much promise within “Creed III’s” first two acts, with a solid pacing of the turmoil and past that both connects and shatters Majors’ and Jordan’s relationship. It deeply engaging until it isn’t, and the speed with which it stumbles highlights Jordan’s own inexperience behind the camera. It isn’t all him though, as Coogler’s script seems too accommodating of the distractions that diminish the engagement in the characters and their story. There’s way too much fill in the gaps, with “Creed III” deciding to skip over how we got here and just launching in the final fight almost without warning. Even the training montage doesn’t have the same triumphant energy, with “Creed III” having easily one of the weakest iterations of this franchise staple in possibly the whole canon.
When all its promise and genuine heart and soul is eventually abandoned in the films climax, it makes for a very frustrating experience and leaves the resolution feel deeply irrelevant and unsatisfying. “Creed III” is still wildly entertaining, and one can enjoy film while still being highly critical of its flaws. The two don’t have to always be mutually exclusive, and this film in particular has both in spades; lots to enjoy and a lot of flaws.
Though it left me wanting more, “Creed III” is a solid end to a franchise that has no business being as consistently good as it is.. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go eat down a protein shake, eat some broccoli and lift some heavy ass weights. I’m pretty sure Majors is carved from stone. Goals.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“Creed III” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.