“There’s no enemy like the past” is a connecting theme explored throughout the legacy sequel series – and none more so than threequel Creed III. With star Michael B. Jordan taking over the reigns for his directorial debut, the latest instalment truly sees Donnie front and centre, stepping out of Rocky’s shadow to fully lead and command the franchise for one of the most emotionally invested sports films in recent times.
Opening with a young Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed (Michael B. Jordan) holding the gloves for childhood friend and boxing prodigy Damian ‘Dame’ Anderson Dam, Creed III centres on this complicated dynamic as the two meet again years later. With Donnie hanging up his own gloves to become a father, gym owner and boxing promoter, he’s setting up his protege – world champion Felix “El Guerrero” Chavez – with a fight against former opponent Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). However, when Dame is released from prison, he sets out to take back what he believes was supposed to be his – putting everything Donnie has worked so hard to achieve at jeopardy.
Following a compelling 2002-set prologue establishing the young Creed and Damian dynamic, the next 90 minutes pack a real emotional punch, as the threequel continues to explore the theme of battling the ghosts of your past whilst also delving into fractured masculinity and childhood trauma. While we can all guess who the final match will be between, writers Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin do a fantastic job of assembling the pieces and players, while Jordan and Majors effortlessly captivate in the compelling character-led drama – mixing in elements from Rocky III and Rocky V along the way.
While the franchise boasts plenty of spectacle, particularly within the thrilling and immersive big bouts, all three instalments equally shine in the quieter moments, exploring and exhibiting a real depth of their protagonists with a surprising sensitivity for such a male-led sporting blockbuster. There’s also a real warmth throughout the central family dynamic following Creed II, with newcomer Mila Davis-Kent bringing a real charm to proceedings, as Jordan and Thompson step out of Stallone’s shadow. However, the final 30 minute act does feel somewhat rushed, occasionally straying into formulaic territory.
Jordan once again shines in front of (and behind) the camera as ‘Donnie’ Creed, in a captivating arc which sees his world turned upside down, putting his happy life as a father, husband and successful business owner in jeopardy as he grapples with the consequences of his actions as a youngster. Jordan and Thompson also continue to be an incredible movie star pairing, with the young family attempting to navigate their busy lifestyles and their daughters’ increasing reliance on violence to deal with bullies at her school. The family’s experience with hearing loss is another fascinating element explored early on in the film, along with the worries over Marry-Anne’s health (Phylicia Rashad), but these family focused threads are admittedly lost amongst the drama with Damian.
As soon as Damian steps on the scene, his complicated history and shifting dynamic with Creed really does steal the show. Majors continues to cement himself as one of the best actors working today, with an impressively layered and nuanced performance. As much as you root for Creed (particularly in the first two films) it is hard to not feel for antagonist Damian, with Majors exhibiting a real hurt amongst the resentment, fury and unpredictability. Much like Jordan’s Black Panther role, Damian is a fascinating mirror to Creed, as he had to watch in envy as his brother lived the life he was working towards and could have had, if not for the harsh American prison system. This weighty Shakespeare-esque brotherhood makes for a truly compelling and emotional watch.
The film continues to bring a real stylistic flair to the franchise, incorporating the big hitters such as impressive ring entrances, epic matches and iconic training montages to the blockbuster. Making his acting debut, Mexican boxer Canelo Álvarez’s outstanding ring entrance spotlights the impact Mexican culture has had on the sport, while the main training montage exhibits how both actors are in absolutely insane shape. The pulsating score from Joseph Shirley is another highlight, along with the wonderfully anime inspired fight sequences. Jordan films each fight with a distinctive direction, favouring close ups on opponent’s eyes and hits, framing each painful shot in epic slo-mo with each bead of sweat dripping. The final fight sequence is a real standout, transporting the two leads into a unique setting, with a shot ripped straight from Dragonball Z.
Creed III packs a real punch with a truly gripping and emotional story and a scene stealing turn from the ever charismatic Jonathan Majors. While it doesn’t quite hit the lofty heights of the 2018 sequel due to the slightly formulaic and rushed climax, the Rocky spin-off series well and truly steps out of it’s predecessors shadow in a heartfelt and assured directorial debut from Jordan.