Michael B, Jordan, Mila Davis Kent and Tess Thompson in “Creed III”

For a first-time director, actor Michael B. Jordan lands a solid punch. As soon as the bell rings, it’s on. 

Continuing a boxing movie franchise that started in 1976 with the Oscar-winning film “Rocky” and sustaining that winning spirit for more than 47 years is quite a responsibility. Filmmaker Ryan Coogler (“Creed” and “Creed II”) was up to that task, and passed it on to Jordan. With characters established by Coogler and now further nurtured by screenwriters Keegan Coogler and Zach Baylin for “Creed III,” another well-written script respectively continues the legacy. Three-dimensional characters, weighty backstories, fated destinies, revenge, regret…They all push the narrative forward. 

Former World Heavyweight Champion Adonis Creed (Jordan) has nothing to prove. His glory days, titles, and legendary wins are history. Now he resides in a tony part of L.A., comfortably rich. His understanding and emotionally stabilizing wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson, “Passing”) keeps him grounded. Their young daughter Amara (Mila Davis Kent) adores him. He owns the Delphi Academy where boxers train and the current WHC Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) is coached by his old friend Tony “Little Duke” Burton (Wood Harris, TV’s “Empire”). Minus his mom’s (Phylicia Rashad) failing health, life is good.

One day, an old buddy and boxing mentor from his teenage years shows up. When Damian Dame Anderson (Jonathan Majors, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”), an ex-con, appears in a parking lot, the ”old boys from the hood” reunion seems uncomfortable. Dame: I just got out. Adonis: What’s the plan? Dame: I wanna be champ! 

Michael B, Jordan in “Creed III”

On the surface, the ex-boxer just wants a chance to compete. Underneath, something is burning like a man wronged looking for payback. With love and generosity, Adonis takes his old buddy into his life and heart. Mistake?

The screenplay takes its time building the characters and giving them deep emotions, from happiness and sadness, to fear and rage. That thoughtfully drawn blueprint pulls viewers into Creed’s and Dame’s lives, struggles, and ambitions. It’s more than enough to keep viewers glued to multiple plights for an hour and 56 minutes, thanks to editors Jessica Baclesse and Tyler Nelson. Everyone will feel invested in Adonis and his family, triggered by the interloper’s duplicitousness, and waiting for the reckoning and big fight. 

Largely, the movie doesn’t disappoint. Even when some dramatic scenes drag, like an elongated lunch in a diner scene with Dame and Adonis. Or when Adonis confesses his feelings, or lack thereof, to Bianca. These extended moments could have been a snooze. But the script is earnest, the actors are deep into their craft, Jordan’s direction is fluid, and Kramer Morgenthau’s eye-catching cinematography makes the visuals strong.

Maybe the real measure of Jordan’s creative abilities is best displayed in the boxing scenes. He doesn’t disappoint. Fights with Chavez, Dame, and Adonis are innovatively shot—especially the final fight, when it seems like the two boxers are in a world of their own. They are. The camera is invisible as it zooms around like a ghost. The attractive sets (courtesy of production designer Jahmin Assa) disappear. The focus is on two pugilists working out their demons and trying to punch or mindf–k their way to victory. 

With most of the “Rocky” and “Creed” movies, the protagonist is so beaten, far down on his luck, and victimized by misfortune that a comeback seems impossible. You have to root for them. That’s the secret sauce. But here, Dame is the one who has that hunger. After spending almost two decades in prison, recovering from an incident as an adolescent that estranged him from Adonis and crashed his boxing career, winning can be his only salvation. On the other hand, Adonis is a bit bougie. He isn’t broke. He isn’t desperate. Only one of them has the real eye of the tiger, and the flaw is that it isn’t the Rocky-type main character. 

Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors in Creed III

The musical playlist jumps right from the get-go, with beats by Big Sean, Ari Lennox, Kehlani, and J. Cole while Joseph Shirley’s score rocks the house, too. Sylvester Stallone’s presence is missed as the weathered champ-turned-trainer Rocky Balboa—a bridge to the past. But the cast finds their own way. Thompson exhibits a wonderful sensitivity as the family-focused, career-minded, and loving quintessential modern Black woman. Benavidez, an actual boxing pro, brings a touch of realism to Felix, as does Selenis Leyva (“Orange is the New Black”), who plays his manager. 

Every performance is professional, but Majors as the aggrieved Dame and Jordan as the guilt-ridden Adonis really bring the gravitas. They melt into their characters, are buff, and as bromantic, envious, and hateful as Cain and Abel. Working-class Crenshaw in one corner. Moneyed Angeleno in the other. May the best man win.

Admirers of this boxing saga, adults craving drama, genre fans looking for a fight, and those who enjoy excellent acting will go the rounds with Creed III. Why? Because Jordan doesn’t pull any punches. He lands them.

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1 Comment

  1. At the risk of blowing your own horn, you forgot to mention “excellent critique.” Beautifully written. Captivating. I’m on the edge of my seat.

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