Creed 3 finds Adonis confronting both his past, and his most dangerous opponent yet. But while stars Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors deliver an acting masterclass, their verbal sparring is more compelling than the action in the ring. Which is a problem in a boxing movie.
The Creed franchise has been a breath of fresh air at a time when most sequels and prequels fail to match the films they follow. Under the watchful eye of director-writer-producer Ryan Coogler – and with Michael B. Jordan so compelling as the title character – the series has gone from strength to strength. At times equalling the Rocky series from which it’s spun-off. And on occasion even surpassing it. Most clearly in the first film.
That film found Adonis dealing with issues of identity as he learns what it means to be a Creed. While the second film saw him building on the family legacy, and avenging his father’s deadly defeat at the fists of Ivan Drago.
Creed 3 finds Donny’s own chickens coming home to roost, his troubled past catching up with him in the sizeable shape of Damian Anderson; played by supervillain of the moment Jonathan Majors.
Kid with a plan
Proceedings commence with a flashback to 2002, where Damian is a kid with a plan. A boxing prodigy, he’s heading to the Nationals, then the Olympics, before going pro, becoming Heavyweight Champion of the World, and following in the footsteps of Ali and Foreman by having his own rumble in the African jungle.
Donny knows Dame from the children’s home they shared, where bad things happened to both boys. But while Adonis is putting that behind him, thanks to his adoption, Damian is still a product of the streets, gambling on his own bouts, and carrying a gun.
This all comes to a head outside a liquor store, where Donny’s temper gets the better of him, but Dame takes the fall. Resulting in a lengthy incarceration. The film then cuts to 15 years later, where it’s Adonis fighting in Africa, via a rematch with Ricky Conlan. Before the movie jumps again – to present-day Los Angeles – for the story to start proper.
Building a boxing empire
It’s a very different Adonis we meet in the here-and-now; one who is sleeping in the day, and – in a scene stolen from 2011’s Warrior – having princess tea parties with his young daughter.
Donny’s building a boxing empire via Creed Athletics, training Mexican boxer Felix Chavez to fight his former nemesis Viktor Drago. Though Adonis seems more concerned with domestic issues; his mother now sick, and that adorable daughter settling arguments at school with her fists. Which doesn’t go down well with Bianca.
But has becoming domesticated – and swapping his boxing gear for Ralph Lauren suits – turned Donny soft? Has he lost the hunger that turned a man into a legend? It’s a theme that’s explored across multiple Rocky movies, while here, an old friend certainly hopes that’s the case.
Man with a plan
Creed’s opponents in the first two movies were played by Tony Bellew, and Florian Munteanu. While they were a match for him in the ring, they couldn’t go toe-to-toe with acting heavyweight Michael B. Jordan when dialogue was involved.
Here it’s a very different story. Jonathan Majors plays grown-up Damian, and the moment he appears outside Donny’s gym, you know that both Creed and Jordan might have met their match.
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Harking back to Mr. T’s Clubber Lang in Rocky III – a neat parallel – Majors is rage made human. A muscle-bound ball of pent-up anger. He hides it in the film’s early scenes, entering the movie like a coiled spring. But one that’s pulled tighter and tighter as proceedings progress. Meaning every time Donny and Dame are together, tension mounts, and the ante gets upped.
That’s because Damian is now a man with a plan, and Adonis can either help him, or face the consequences of standing in his way.
A trilogy of fights
Those loaded conversations make this the talkiest of the Creed movies, with characters discussing problems and feelings in a way that would have had Mickey kicking them out of his gym back in the day. But it’s all in service of developing characters, and strengthening our connection to them.
Trouble is, the conversations sizzle and pop with the violence of a brawl, and there are times when they are more dramatic than the actual fighting.
There are three boxing matches in Creed. The first illustrates the title character’s focus and control, as well as his tactical brilliance. The second underlines just how ruthless and dangerous Damian is as he fights dirty to win. Both are superb. The finale matches neither of them.
It’s a good fight, the opponents trading brutal blows that are informed by years of pain; each strike carrying real weight. But it never reaches the dizzy heights of the classic Rocky and Creed bouts. Something that isn’t helped by some stylistic decisions that add visual pizzazz to the brawl, but ultimately lessen its impact. Meaning the pay-off doesn’t quite match the film’s lengthy set-up, which in turn means Creed 3 never quite earns the iconic Rocky theme that rings out at the end.
The Verdict: Is Creed 3 good?
There are issues with Creed 3. That final fight is a bit of a disappointment. While storylines involving Donny’s mother and daughter feel underdeveloped – there to tug on the heart strings without being properly explored.
There’s also a rather large hole where Rocky Balboa should be. Stallone has been vocal about his absence, but the film barely acknowledges it. A problem in a movie about an underdog being given a chance, in a franchise where Donny and Rocky had thus far been so close.
But there’s much more to admire in Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut. Two of the three fights he films are superb. While the scenes Jordan shares with Jonathan Majors – in a diner, at the gym, in his house, on the beach – are absolutely electrifying. Two actors at the very top of their game, trading verbal blows as damaging as any uppercut, and as exciting as anything we’ve seen in the series.
Creed 3 review score: 4/5
This is a very different kind of Creed movie – one where the drama outside the ring out-scores the bouts in it. But what drama it is.
Creed III is released this Friday (March 3) while you can check out our list of the Greatest Boxing Movies here.