Creed III somehow breaks away from Rocky’s tried-and-tested formula while still holding on to its golden brass knuckles and while it’s no dramatic haymaker, it is still a knockout all the same.
A round of applause to Michael B. Jordan in his first directorial debut, man. He’s obviously been paying attention to the previous two films as he’s crafted a sense of flair and style that not only masks a typical by-the-numbers experience but crafts this sports-drama as more of a thriller, showing dramatic finesse in his staging of every major relationship in the story. Jordan’s magnetism and ferocity carries over in front of the camera too as he challenges and rivals that of Jonathan Majors’ earth-shattering doses of palpable pain and rage and the two shoot off each other masterfully. All the performers have solid chemistry while supporting and playing off each other wonderfully.
There’s visceral intimacy in how charged the editing impacts and enhances Kramer Morgenthau’s cinematography, taking us in and out the spectacle and ceremony of boxing while adding dimensionality and melodramatic intensity to an already electric atmosphere. Upon fusing it with the minimalist elegance of the production design and tasteful costume design, there’s an operatic sensibility in how the technical aspects of the film bleed into the explosive energy and emotion that follows. I have a soft spot for the sound design, the musical score hit the required beats necessary for the story’s structure and the fight sequences, once again, are thrilling; embracing its anime influences with close-ups and slow motion while keeping a hard handle on its raw brutality and barely avoiding diving into self-parody.
Staying in line with the previous two installments, its narrative story follows some predictable tropes but keeps finding ways to make each beat that the story follows keep the crowd-pleasing hallmarks of the previous films to forge another path forward. As a stern test of Adonis Creed’s appeal, the plot is a modern spin on Rocky III as it’s meant to examine, question and challenge the very myth and foundation of Adonis’ legacy and existence similar to Rocky’s. It manages to do more of that and the same, grappling with family, friendship and the complexities of contemporary masculinity while also shining yet another spotlight on deaf representation; most of which you probably expected to happen.
Yes, Rocky’s presence is definitely missed since he was an important figure for the first two films but his absence is almost an necessity for this film to branch out as its own thing and while most of the events in this story you don’t doubt for a second, it’s the journey that should count for something.
Unfortunately, the second act comes off as rushed and even a bit distracting as it not only takes some weight out of the films wings but also exposes how blunt the dialogue comes off as. And also, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed with how they handled Adonis and Bianca’s relationship here; after two movies that had her take as much of the brunt as Michael’s character to impact the narrative, the way their relationship is impacted by Dame’s presence is so freaking weird. Sure, they still challenge each other but it doesn’t go much of anywhere especially for their daughter.
And therein lies perhaps the biggest thing that holds this movie back: outside of the pacing, more often than not, the film is too straightforward. As a franchise that feels the need to tick the traditional Rocky boxes, it risks stagnating the characters in favor of trying to tell something different. It doesn’t ruin anybody and it’s far from problematic in a series that continues to make the best out of Dami alt circumstances but it’s hard not to notice, especially with how undercooked the ending ends up being when you really think about it.
All of that said though, this shouldn’t detract anybody from seeing it. It probably won’t be the favorite in the Creed Saga but even without Rocky, but nothing about this third installment feels phoned in and Creed is, still, mostly, a winner.