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‘Creed III’ Is A Thrilling Film With A Solid Emotional Core – Review

Starting with Ryan Coogler’s Creed, the Rocky franchise was upgraded with a new look. The 2015 film successfully reintroduced audiences to an iconic film series and bolstered its leading man, Michael B. Jordan, into global stardom. Although some (me) have jokingly referred to Jordan as a “face actor,” the truth is that underneath his remarkably animated facial expressions lies a likeable realness rare in modern Hollywood movie stars. A grounded sense of authenticity that, combined with a subtle underlying fear or concern, breeds reliably brilliant performances (i.e. Fruitvale Station, Just Mercy). 

Jordan brings his trademark melodramatic charisma back for Creed III. Following his retirement, Adonis’s adjustment to his new family lifestyle is interrupted when Damien “Diamond” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) reenters the picture. Bianca (Tessa Thompson), Duke (Wood Harris), Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), and Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) all return alongside Jordan, who is not only starring but stepping behind the camera to make his directorial debut.

Creed III - Still

Inspired by Rocky creator Sylvester Stallone (who did not return for this installment) and his mentor, A Journal to Jordan director Denzel Washington, Jordan smoothly inserts himself into an elite class of actor-turned-filmmakers. Snatching the steering wheel of the vehicle that made him a star seems risky, but Jordan demonstrates unflinching confidence in every choice in Creed III. Regardless of how you feel about those choices, there’s no doubt that Jordan has a strong vision.

Stylistically, the brawls are consistently easy to follow, thanks to well-timed camera movements and editing. In interviews, the Chronicle star talked about how particular anime helped influence the fight scenes in the film. These influences stood out from the first fight, with clever close-ups and time-ramping effects that put you inside the gloves like never before. There’s one fight scene that was shot in a way that I can genuinely say I’ve never seen in a boxing film before, ever. This scene will likely divide audiences and serve as a make-or-break moment for moviegoers, but I personally loved it.

While all the big, splashy fight scenes were well-executed, the number one priority of the director is to tell the story through the actors on screen. That’s why transitioning from acting to directing is typically so successful as the actors can communicate with other actors on a different level. This is something that Jordan excels with in Creed III, getting a rousing performance from Majors. Hot off his Kang the Conqueror debut in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the 2023 breakout star is back in another antagonist role. This time, he’s playing “Diamond Dame,” an old friend of Adonis, who is looking for one more shot at glory after being locked up for 18 years.

I’m unsure where Majors drew inspiration for his character, but the result is shockingly realistic. As a professional critic, I don’t know how to articulate the feeling that his depiction of Damien Anderson evoked without relating to my personal childhood. Growing up in Compton, you see a lot of murderers, criminals, and generally angry grown men who just got out of the pen, living with an ankle bracelet on parole. All that time with their freedom stripped away, leaves a resounding, unbreakable chip on their shoulders. They are so desperate for a shot that they live by a constant “by any means necessary” mentality. Majors embodies it all to create a brutal, menacing, and oddly sympathetic antagonist. His scene-stealing role elevates the whole movie.

The details in Majors’ villainous rendition are really what makes the difference. Having just starred in the indie bodybuilder movie Magazine Dreams, Majors’ physique is unparalleled; pound-for-pound outsizing ol’ Donnie in the boxing ring and the frame. Moreover, his posture is always subtly hunched over, leaving the impression that he’s never really had a comfortable bed in his life. Lastly, the Lovecraft Country actor projects a very convincing South LA accent. Not to insult or nitpick the film, but there were even tiny parts where you can lowkey peep Majors doing an ADR line because he was too deep in that classic South Central mumble. 

Creed III promises an edgier, darker direction to the famous Rocky Balboa lore. Since Coogler’s Creed and Steven Cable Jr.’s Creed II were loose remixes of  Rocky I and Rocky IV, respectively, one could say that this movie takes a page from Rocky III, where the Italian Stallion is forced out of retirement by the relentlessly “hungry” Clubber Lang. Rocky III has always been my favorite in the franchise (who doesn’t love “Eye of the Tiger”), so seeing the story get a 2023 facelift was refreshing. As legendary as Mr. T was in the 1981 film, Jonathan Majors brought chess to the checkers game. Adding intriguing social commentary about institutionalization is always a plus too.

While the two previous Creed directors were USC graduates, the films still held true to Rocky’s Philadelphia roots. But with Stallone out of the picture, Jordan makes Donnie the new LA hometown hero and celebrates the city’s vibrant culture. Everything from the music to actual locations (like Venice Beach, Leimert Park and Dodger Stadium) gives the Creed saga a breath of fresh air. It makes sense thematically, as Adonis needs to stay closer to his mother, Mary Anne Creed, played by Rashad. Rashad has been the heart of the Creed series since day one, so her performance is unmissable, as expected. Thompson’s Bianca character returns without much to do in this entry. 

Overall, Creed III is a championship prize-fight worth watching with a crowd. Don’t be surprised if you find yourselves glued to the fisticuffs on-screen. From spectacle to heart, this movie delivers everything you’d want in a blockbuster sports movie. My LA and Rocky III bias aside, Jordan directs a thrilling boxing film with a solid emotional core. I cannot wait to watch it again.

Rating: 8/10

Creed III hits theaters on March 3, 2023.

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