Ryan Coogler breathed new live into the Rocky franchise with 2015’s Creed, bringing a deeper complexity to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa while also handing off the torch to Michael B. Jordan. Creed II further explored the relationship between Adonis Creed and Rocky and let Donnie finally come into his own. With Creed III, Michael B. Jordan is front and center, both in the film since Rocky is nowhere in sight this time around, and behind the camera in his directorial debut. Now three films deep, the Creed franchise has begun to show its age. Michael B. Jordan is competent behind the camera and the boxing scenes remain a highlight of the trilogy with the addition of Jonathan Majors as a welcomed newcomer, but the story struggles as the film finds itself on the ropes with little room to move.
Following a win in a rematch against Ricky Conlan, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) hangs up his gloves and retires from the ring as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. His focus is now on his family, raising his deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson). Boxing is still a part of Adonis’ life though and he now spends his time at the gym training other boxers to become champions. His new lifestyle becomes threatened when Damien “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) shows up on his doorstep after nearly 20 years in jail. Adonis and Damien go way back together, but times have changed since they were kids. A former Golden Gloves boxer, Damien was on his way to the top before going to prison. Now out, he is determined to become the best in the world and will step over anyone to get there. With everything on the line, Adonis steps into the ring for one last bout against his former friend who has nothing left to lose.
Adding Jonathan Majors to any franchise is a great decision, and Creed is no exception. Majors towers over everyone else as Dame and brings a hunger and ferocity to the ring. The Rocky franchise has always been an underdog tale and a story about going from rags to riches. Creed III puts itself in a similar vein with Dame’s story. He lost everything when he went to prison and will do whatever it takes to get to the top. Unlike Rocky or Donnie, however, Dame doesn’t have that mentor figure and is more of a villain than a pure underdog. It’s an interesting angle that Majors embraces. His anger at Donnie for living the life he dreamed of is palpable, and his presence, both physical and mental, dominates the screen.
Meanwhile, Donnie is struggling with his own demons now that his past has resurfaced. And that’s where the film struggles the most. Creed III continues Donnie’s journey from the previous film where he recognizes that he needs to be more open with those around him only to find him once again closing himself off to Bianca and his daughter. So much of the film revolves around Donnie dealing with his feelings and how not everything can be solved with violence. Amara gets bullied in school and ends up in trouble for punching a fellow kid. There’s a whole conversation between Donnie and Bianca, where Bianca wants to talk things out while Donnie believes that it’s better to be prepared for a fight. So much of the conflict in the film could be solved if characters just talked to one another. But of course this is a Rocky film. That means the big finale is going to be a boxing match. Despite what the majority of the film is about, it all ends up coming back to throwing punches at one another. It’s awkward to watch Bianca spend the entire film wanting Donnie to open up about his feelings only to have her quickly back him in fighting Dame. The big fight between Donnie and Dame is to be expected, but Creed III backs itself into a corner because boxing has always been at the heart of the franchise. The story is disappointing because it doesn’t fully commit to its themes, and if it did, it would have been a completely different kind of film. That’s the uphill battle Creed III faces and doesn’t fully recover from unfortunately.
That being said, the boxing matches featured in the film are dazzling. Michael B. Jordan has a great eye for capturing the blood, sweat, and intensity of the sport. You feel the stakes with every punch thrown. The finale match between Donnie and Dame is great, and Jordan takes some big swings as a director that ultimately pay off in its presentation. It’s exhilarating every time someone steps into the ring. It’s such a shame that the rest of the film doesn’t live up to the boxing.
Creed III has all the basic elements of the franchise, from motivating montages to tense boxing, but its story lacks any depth and development. The whole film plays out like a lesser version of Warrior and is the weakest of the Creed trilogy. Jonathan Majors is a force worth watching, but his presence alone cannot save the film. The limitations of the franchise has the film on the ropes with nowhere left to go. Creed III might still be standing by the time the final bell is rung, but its legs have never looked wobblier.
Now three films deep, the Creed franchise has begun to show its age. Michael B. Jordan is competent behind the camera and the boxing scenes remain a highlight of the trilogy with the addition of Jonathan Majors as a welcomed newcomer, but the story struggles as the film finds itself on the ropes with little room to move.