Creed III review — a solidly enjoyable follow up that could have been better
Creed III envisions Adonis as a new man – mostly. Now retired, the former champ runs his own gym where the best boxers in the country train. He has a happy family life, his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is now a songwriter and producer, their daughter Amara is happy and healthy, and Adonis' mom Mary Anne is recovering well from a stroke.
Then his childhood friend Damian (Jonathan Majors) arrives, fresh out of a long prison stint and eager to prove that he has what it takes to win the title – after all, it was he who was the boxing prodigy as a child, not Adonis. With nothing to lose, Damian takes big risks, ultimately pitting the two childhood friends against each other in the ring.
Like Rocky III, Creed III attempts to reinvent the highly successful, very wealthy champion of boxing as an underdog. The movie's biggest mistake, though, is that they frame that dynamic based solely on brute strength; when they head towards their inevitable face-off, one of the commentators waxes poetically that Adonis hasn't been training like Damian has – as if that is the thing that differentiates them.
Sure, the boxing-world narrative that is being touted is that Damian is a man with nothing to lose, whereas Adonis has everything on the line. But even this isn't the thing that makes their dynamic more tense than any other. It's the historical power dynamic that has been inverted, and inverted again, twisted upon itself like a bent slinky so tangled it's impossible to unwind.
This is explored, but as a secondary dynamic to the classically straightforward underdog vs villain fight that the franchise has rested on for decades. We can't slight a film for colouring within the lines, but it feels like a missed opportunity to do something more nuanced.
There is a moment where the two address this dynamic, but it's too little too late. Character development is eschewed for training montages in which Michael B Jordan genuinely drags a twin-prop plane around.
Still, what the film lacks in narrative tension it makes up for with its individual performances. Jordan and Majors have a crackling chemistry, that kind of brotherly love that can turn on a dime and radiates off the screen.
Thompson luckily gets to do more than simply be the beleaguered wife. Bianca offers Adonis every opportunity to turn the ship around, and when he refuses to take them she doesn't bow to her wifely and motherly duties, instead standing up to him and calling him out.
Unfortunately, Creed III feels more like two films. The characters we start our journey with are not the ones with whom we spend the first third of the film. Then, they're swapped out as Damian takes centre stage, only to return later as cameos in what feels like a sequel to the film's first half, rather than a second half of one continuous film.
There is also a lot of suspension of disbelief required for anyone vaguely familiar with the US penal system; it's hard to imagine a parole officer not noticing one of their parolees is flouting the rules (which can vary but often include remaining in certain locations, having a steady job and refraining from alcohol).
And while a lot of these rules make life even harder for formerly-incarcerated people trying to reenter the workforce, at no point does this detail hamper or even factor into Damian's life as we see it.
Of course, Creed III has no duty to be accurate to these minutiae, and they'll likely only stick out to those who have listened to one too many true-crime podcasts, or have personal experience with the justice system. But what it does is contribute to the overall feeling that there's too much noise in this film, too many plot hoops to jump through to get Damian and Adonis in the ring together.
Once they're in the ring, though, is where the film shines – Jordan's directing comes into its own, and Majors' ruthlessness (so at odds with his persona) is palpable, but comes from a place that you can empathise with. This is the film's biggest strength, hemmed in by the necessity of being a Creed film.
Creed III is now out in cinemas.
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