Creed III review (2023)

Creed III is sometimes jarring with its pacing and transitions, and the lack of Rocky’s presence is felt at times. But, it still manages to stand on its own as yet another fantastic entry into this iconic film universe with expertly filmed and series’ best fighting sequences, an emotionally personal story, memorable performances, and an incredibly engaging dynamic between Adonis Creed and his former friend turned foe, Damian Anderson.

There seems to be an obvious theme in the Creed film trilogy. Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed always seems to fighting various elements of his past. In Creed, he’s fighting to get out of his father’s shadow, but ends up embracing the Creed name. You can somewhat say the same about Creed II, where in one way, he’s avenging his father, Apollo Creed, who died in the ring against Ivan Drago, by fighting his son, Viktor Drago, but still feels he’s unworthy to carry the Creed name if he can’t beat Drago. But, once again, in true Rocky fashion, he succeeds. This time, however, things are a bit different. In Creed III, Adonis is very much facing off against something from his past, but it’s undoubtedly the most personal battle of his career and there’s a strong debate it may be one of the toughest things he’s ever had to go through.

Truthfully, I was a bit skeptical about this third installment. For one, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa isn’t involved at all. His character is alluded to here and there, but he never makes an appearance. His absence from this film was confirmed quite a long time ago so it doesn’t come as a surprise, but it’s clear that this Creed series works because of the strong foundation the Rocky franchise established for so many years. I have to say, Rocky’s presence, or lack thereof, is definitely felt in certain scenes in the movie. While watching, even though I knew he wouldn’t be in it, I can think of a number of scenes and instances where he could’ve shown up with his typical charm and distinct, iconic accent to offer Adonis some memorable motivational words and classic Rocky wisdom to push him over whatever hump or internal fight he was going through. At some points, I was even convinced he was going to make a cameo and do exactly that. But, alas, he doesn’t. As a fan of the series, I can’t say I’m not a bit disappointed since I’m such a massive fan of the Rocky character and the series of films. But, don’t get it twisted, the film still definitely works on a ton of levels, especially on delivering the emotional weight even without Rocky being involved. Of course, I’ll dig a bit deeper into that later.

I was also worried about Michael B. Jordan making his directorial debut. I wasn’t necessarily worried about Jordan’s abilities as a creator. I know he’s a capable person since he’s an incredibly talented individual. He’s shown time and time again with a variety of fantastic performances and some producer credits. But, I’m always cautiously optimistic when it’s someone’s very first time directing a feature film, especially of this caliber. It’s safe to say he passed with flying colors, however. The only true complaints I have about his direction is the jarring transitions, particularly at the very beginning. The pacing felt a bit rushed and the story the film tells practically forces the film to jump from one scene to the next quite abruptly. It gradually stabilizes, but it all could’ve been a bit smoother. For example, in one scene, there seems to be an entirely different mood and tone going on before it transitions to a completely different thing. But, as mentioned, it gets better.

By far, the highlight is the boxing. I don’t think there’s any denying that the Creed series has the best boxing matches throughout the entire Rocky universe and the boxing film genre in general. No other films in the Rocky franchise immerse you into the fights quite like the Creed trilogy has, and Creed III takes it to the next level in more ways than one. Not only are the fights expertly choreographed, but they’re also incredibly visually pleasing and appealing. During the build-up and press interviews, Jordan harped on how the boxing scenes in this film are heavily inspired by his love for anime. From the very first match, it’s immediately clear. I don’t want to spoil how he pulls it off, but I’m sure fans of Hajime no Ippo, Dragon Ball Z, and My Hero Academia will be very well pleased. My favorite boxing match in the film is definitely the climactic showdown between Adonis and Jonathan Majors’ Damian Anderson. There’s a specific sequence in that matchup where I was in awe of what was happening on the screen. To put it plainly, it’s sensational. As a viewer, you’re forced to slightly push aside a sense of realism due to certain decisions made in the fight and how they’re going at each other. Some of it could seem a bit over-the-top and exaggerated, but at the same time, it’s very unique and Jordan approached this fight with a completely different style. It’s one we haven’t seen in this series, and it’s fantastic.

Speaking more on Jonathan Majors’ Dame, other than Apollo Creed, he might be my favorite antagonist in this entire franchise. Majors is an absolute firecracker and he continues to impress me with every new thing I see him in. Specifically speaking, in his role as Dame, he delivers a ton of intensity and brutality, which, although it isn’t anything Adonis hasn’t seen before, this time, it’s different, especially since it’s all deeply personal. Dame may not be as physically imposing as Viktor Drago, but he’s strong and intimidating enough to give Adonis a ton of problems from a boxing perspective. He’s also someone who taught Adonis a variety of moves, which have helped shape Adonis into the successful boxer he is today. Most importantly, he knows Adonis more than most, and he’s been carrying around a ton of resentment and hatred while being in prison for many years. Once out, he’s releasing all of this pent-up frustration and doing whatever he can to try and be the man he feels he was destined to be. The emotional dynamic between the two is one of the most interesting and compelling parts of the entire movie. Seeing how it all unfolds keeps you engaged as a viewer from start to finish. I genuinely believe there’s no one else who could’ve done what Majors did with this role. At first, you love him, then you dislike him for what he did, and then you come around for him again; he’s an extremely bizarre and insane individual, but also has a method to his madness. Only Majors could’ve been this convincing.

As a character, Adonis has come a long way. It’s evident he has never had to deal with something like this before and, in some ways, he feels responsible for how Dame’s life turned out. He channels feelings of regret, disappointment, and guilt, and seeing him trying to cope with all of this is one of the biggest battles we’ve ever seen him try to overcome. It resonated with me deeply since I can relate to the feeling of not knowing how to communicate about certain emotions and feelings. Tessa Thompson’s Bianca, in a number of ways, reminded me of my wife; although always supportive of me, she’s relentless in her pursuit to try and get me to open up and voice my concerns, my fears, and my thoughts on certain things. Without Bianca, Adonis wouldn’t be able to do the things he does, and I feel the same about my wife and the role she plays in all of my triumphs in life. The same can be said about Wood Evans’ Little Duke, who now plays sort of a father role in Adonis’ life. He’s still his trainer first, but still offers his own wise tidbits here and there, and in hindsight, they go a long way, especially in his fights. Despite the strong support system he has, a key detail the movie focuses on is how he wills himself to keep pushing forward and to keep fighting. I believe, from a mental perspective, his character comes full circle here. Sometimes, there’s no one else to rely on and no one else to motivate you. You have to dig deep down and find it within yourself to keep pressing on.

One of the most heartfelt elements of the film is all of the interactions with their daughter, Amara, played by Mila Davis-Kent. Seeing both Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson using American sign language to communicate with her was special and a big win for the deaf community, especially in film. I’m not sure where the series goes from here of if it’ll even continue, but if it does, I hope she has a role to play in it.

Ultimately, Creed III proves a story can be told without having to rely on Rocky being the foundation of the entire narrative. I’m sure there’s still a place for Rocky to play some sort of role if future stories are to be told since I still feel he could’ve had some moments in this one, but at the same time, this film shows he isn’t a necessity. Adonis Creed is a character who is complex and layered enough to carry a movie on his own, along with the core characters and new ones always being introduced to help him lift the load. Creed II sort of teased the idea of Adonis living a life where he doesn’t need Rocky in every crucial moment and hardship. Creed III takes full advantage of that opportunity by putting him front and center without living in Rocky’s shadow. I’m not sure where this series goes from here, but if it’s the end, it goes out on an exceptionally high note. You’re definitely not a mistake, Adonis Creed.

Score: 9/10


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