‘Creed III’- Film Review: A Victorious Directorial Debut from Michael B. Jordan

What’s the Story: Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is taking on early retirement from boxing, spending his days in comfort with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) in Los Angeles. He is thriving in his family life and running the updated Delphi Boxing Academy and mentoring the next up and coming heavyweight champions. When an older childhood friend of his, “Diamond” Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), returns into his life after recently being released from prison after 18 years, putting a pause on a promising career. The two grew up together in the same group home before Adonis got adopted. Donnie wants to help him back into the boxing game even though he’s not leveled enough to take a shot at being the finest champion in the world, only to face him in the ring in the ultimate battle of friendship.

For the devoted Rocky fans who grew up watching these movies, there was so much anticipation leading up to Creed III. The past seven years have seen a significant increase in the popularity of the long-running sports franchise, thanks immensely to the spin-off/ sequel Creed. If you read my recent throwback review, you’ll know I love the 2015 film directed by Ryan Coogler, which brought a fresh perspective on the formula that’s a real winner. And I re-watched 2018’s Creed II for the first time since I saw it in theaters, and that’s a sequel we don’t talk about much anymore. Sure, it didn’t reach the heights of amazement of the first, but I have to admire Steven Caple Jr. for a rousing good time for an installment in the series I find underrated. And if you haven’t seen either of them or any other installment before going into this, what have you been doing for nearly eight years?

So there was some worry about having a third film since who’ll know if there will be enough to tell this character. However, to see one of the most prominent Hollywood actors I’m inspired by the most, Michael B. Jordan, steps in front and behind the lens to make his directorial debut for the third film. I’ve seen this twice now. The first time was at a screening, which I arrived about two minutes after it started because I was dealing with car problems. Then I caught it again for an early IMAX screening I already planned on going to have clearer thoughts. So after two viewings for the first movie I’ve been anticipating for 2023, it’s probably my least favorite of the three, but there’s no denying this was an entertaining time. 

Nothing will ever dismiss a good Jordan performance since he has played this character three times now, and this shows he continues to get better in every scene; still rooting for this guy to rise to the top and grow more as a person. His recent reunion with Damian unlocked a part of his past he wants to forget, and it’s only a matter of time to focus on the future rather than having our sins haunt us now. We all knew Jordan would be great, but most would also pay for a ticket to see Jonathan Majors in action. Regardless of how we feel about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, he was the best part without question. And watching him play another villain shortly after (in a much better movie) proves 2023 will be the year of Majors. And I’m here for it. You can’t take your eyes off of Damian whenever he shows up, where he was this promising boxer who dreams of becoming bigger but gets derailed by this incident that changes his life. We see through adolescence flashbacks that they have this brotherly love for each other and never keep in touch with him. He could’ve had a lovely home, family, and a legacy of his own. So far, this Creed villain can challenge him physically and emotionally based on their electric chemistry. He’s probably the best villain since Ivan Drago. 

Every time she stars in one of these movies as the singer-turned-producer Bianca, Tessa Thompson becomes better and better. And this solidified my love for her more, even if I wanted a bit more screen time with her. And there’s some heart given in working in the relationship with Adonis and his daughter Amaira that makes for the sweetest moments in Creed III, especially with their communication. But few have been asking, where is Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa? Why isn’t the face of the franchise not in this? Maybe it made sense for the previous to be his last appearance, but apparently, there was some legal stuff between him and one of the producers I didn’t know behind the scenes, that might be why. Is his absence noticeable? Yes and no. Even though his presence is fantastic from the last two, having him show up would’ve been a bad thing. They might have mentioned his name once or twice. Without giving away any surprises, let me just add that there was one scene in particular where he really could have helped.

Following in the footsteps of Stallone when he directed several sequels under his belt (2,3,4, and Rocky Balboa), it was interesting to see what Jordan would do with his first time behind the camera. For many actors, it can be the most challenging factor unless they bring the confidence to make it through. Luckily for him, this was an impressive debut. When he’s handling the boxing sequences, you can see he was paying close attention to how Coogler and Caple Jr. utilize their techniques to make their directed fights pop. With the help of the cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau and editing, they stood out when embracing the tension brimming through them as if you’re sitting in the crowd to see who’ll win, feeling like the most different from what we’ve seen before in the franchise.

Jordan recently said in an interview that he was influenced by his love for anime while crafting the fights and you can tell without knowing lick about anime (me). I thought the action really got going in the final match inside Dodgers Stadium, where it displayed a unique variation on a boxing match in the finale that I didn’t think would work (some probably won’t like it), but the power behind it did to where it might be one of the best fights in the entire franchise. Better than the one-take in the first? It’s very close. Sometimes he’ll slow the scene down in the ring with his opponent, similar to how it was used in Sherlock Holmes with his method of how to get the perfect knockout. Now after checking it out in IMAX, it’s definitely worth seeing it in the format when you feel like you’re inside the boxing ring thanks to filming them with their cameras, the first sports films to do so.

The screenplay from Keenan Coogler (Space Jam: A New Legacy) and Zach Baylin (King Richard) shows shades of past films, especially with a few similarities that happened in here and Rocky III I constantly thought about while watching. However, it comes up on the thin side despite an emotional story that didn’t have to be complex. With any entry in the series, the formula takes hold and can be predictable with the traditional training montages we need that made the fat ass in me want to work out instantly every time they do them. There’s also a few moments felt rushed to where there probably wasn’t enough time to get over a certain feeling. Although it moves along smoothly over the entire 116 minutes, I would welcome an additional 15 minutes to elaborate on Damian’s backstory more.

Still, although the script could have used more substance, Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut with Creed III is a strong installment that stands on its feet. There are some excellent boxing sequences, and Jonathan Majors is a master at stealing the show as the bad guy. Although not my favorite, the sequel is enjoyable. If the possibly this could very well be the last, that would be no problem. However, I think I’ll be down for a fourth, regardless if they have a new director or if they attempt to bring back Rocky.

Grade: [B]

Creed III will be released in theaters and IMAX on March 3, 2023. Runtime: 116 Minutes| Rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language| Studio: MGM Studios

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