Creed III Swings High Without Rocky

Charlie von Peterffy / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

The Michael B. Jordan-led Creed series of boxing films have done critically and commercially well since the original’s 2015 release. Each entry has received praise for its three-dimensional characters, intelligent writing, and stellar boxing cinematography. These films have also revitalized the boxing genre, demonstrating how a sport perceived as brutally primitive as boxing can have complicated, long-lasting effects on those involved. The Creed franchise eloquently presents this with grace and grit, using its central character to show how boxing influences one’s relationships and interpersonal growth and the physical/psychological damage it can cause.

With the release of Creed III, this same trend continues. Being the first film in the current trilogy without Creed’s former coach and friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a lot was riding on it: it had to separate itself from the Rocky franchise and give the series another compelling story. Surprisingly, it does that well. Focusing now on Creed’s past through the introduction of his old friend and partner in crime, Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), Creed III benefits from being the most relationship-driven film of the series––and arguably, therefore, the most emotionally robust of the three. The film correctly devotes much time to showing how quickly kids of similar backgrounds can take drastically different paths in lifes. The message lands with elaborate tragic might thanks to Majors’ enveloping performance and the film’s grounded writing. While it may be the weakest of the trilogy––some vital themes like death get skipped over, some of the writing is hollow in its melodrama, and some new visual tricks fail to provide any tension––the film still thrives because of its unique story, refreshing independence, and ever-present eye for masterful choreography and cinematography.

Creed III follows its protagonist, Adonis Creed (Michael Jordan), as he faces retirement from boxing to better fulfill his family duties as a father. With his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and her equally impressive career as a singer-songwriter and producer, the two finally settle in Los Angeles, CA, to raise their deaf daughter, Amara Creed (Mila Davis-Kent). At the same time, an old friend of Creed’s, Anderson, gets released from prison after an 18-year sentence. Happy to see his old friend, Creed helps him achieve his goal: becoming a professional boxer and eventually the global heavyweight champion. However, as their relationship continues, it becomes clear that Anderson is unhinged; he plays dirty, aims to break, and is extremely violent. To stop him, Creed must come out of retirement to defeat Anderson and face the past of their complicated relationship, as Creed was at the scene of the crime for which  Anderson was arrested. Win or lose, his future with his family depends on the outcome.

Though familiar to Creed and Rocky fans alike, the story is presented with enough depth, character development, and technical innovation to please. Because the central opponents’ relationship primarily drives the film, it relies heavily on the writing; and the writers delivered. As the first film of the trilogy to focus solely on Creed, the writers had more room to expand his character, and they realized the best way to accomplish that was to make an equally realistic villain, which they did reasonably well. Anderson’s dialogue feels a bit corny and cartoonish sometimes, but for the most part, he presents as anyone would if their life was ripped from under them for minor mistakes they made as a kid. His presence alone creates tension for Creed, and the stress of their relationship compounds that tension. The story, therefore, is compelling. Unfortunately, some sequences are rushed to the film’s detriment; many of these scenes are vital to the story, so only glossing them over makes the film occasionally feel choppy. Nonetheless, for the most part, the tale knocks you out.

The performances are also meaty. Jordan and Thompson continue to fill their shoes with only minor issues. They are perfectly decent, but only as required by boxer-film needs. As the newcomer, Majors does a superb job as Anderson. Though his role’s dialogue is flawed, and his character could have used more impactful screen time, Majors brings the part to life quickly and convincingly. He embodies a traumatically enraged man without descending into caricature, giving Anderson integrity and earned grit on screen. In opposition to Creed/Jordan, he comes off as impeccably ruthless and undeterred as necessary, making Anderson an excellent villain. In short, like its predecessors, Creed III benefits from a star-studded cast that satisfies.

The visuals are fantastic, though some visual style choices feel forced. The film’s cinematography, choreography, and CGI all work well. Everything feels and looks realistic, even with the more theatrical, swingy fighting utilized here, unlike in either past Creed. The biggest issue visually is the film’s attempt at creating symbolism and imagery. While this film is the most ambitious of the trilogy in that respect, these moments feel silly. For example, during a major fight scene, one side of the boxing ring turns into a jail bar wall as Creed gets pressed against it while being beaten. The intended message is not subtle, as prison is a consistent theme throughout the film. Imagery thus feels melodramatic instead of weighted or meaningful. Fortunately, these moments are few and far between, so they don’t impact the movie significantly.

Creed III is another successful film that further deepens the Creed family without losing hold of the action. It is effective because of solid performances, character growth, and a sturdy understanding of boxing, both physically and emotionally. While its rushed components, on-the-nose symbolism, and the lack of any Rocky mention or appearances—not even in a short phone call—leaves a hole that dampens the film, Balboa’s successor has more than enough of an intriguingly uneven life to entertain and pull in the viewer. This is a must-watch for Creed fans, boxing fans, sports fans, and those looking for a dramatic fight movie. So long as you expect a few silly moments, you will enjoy yourself.

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