Now streaming–Creed III… a worthy contender in the Rocky franchise

Review by C.J. Bunce

You know Creed III is going to be a different kind of boxing movie, and director Michael B. Jordan holds back to reveal the nature of the stakes until the movie’s midpoint.  We’ve seen fighting dirty in the Rocky franchise before, but this time it’s different.  Creed III is a bit of Rocky II–even Sylvester Stallone mined his own material multiple times–but Jordan shows he knows how to tap into what makes a boxing movie compelling.  Along with directing, Jordan stars again as Adonis “Donnie” Creed, but this time he returns to the dichotomy of Black Panther, where he played the somewhat sympathetic villain Killmonger.  This time he’s the good guy, and he’s matched by a strongly written opponent, played by Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania co-star Jonathan Majors.  Creed III has all the silly boxing movie tropes you’d expect, but it’s also an impressive feat for the first time director.  The one-two punch is the script and the choice of Majors as villain.  Who knew a Rocky film could succeed without the participation of Stallone?  Creed III is now streaming on Prime Video.

You can compare parts of Creed III to themes and scenes from the better Rocky movies, which are basically the first four movies.  Rocky, the movie and role that made Sylvester Stallone a household name, earned him Academy Award nominations for both acting and his screenplay.  The latest is the ninth film in the franchise, but the first without Rocky.  Stallone’s performance in Creed and Creed II proved he still has the acting chops, and can give as emotional a performance as ever.  All indications seemed to point to Creed III being a final entry, but it’s a surprising, strong story, good enough to usher in a tenth franchise film, Rocky X, which should draw Stallone back one more time.

Creed and Drago–the names are the same, but the characters are different.  The surprise is Majors, who played such a one-note, boring villain in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.  Here he plays one character in the first hour, and an almost different character in the second.  He’s Damian “Dame” Anderson (movie buffs may see that as an unintended odd name), a suddenly but believably churned-up character from Creed’s past.  Anderson has been in jail the past two decades, but is back with a blend of revenge and drive–just like Jordan’s Killmonger.  Anderson shows his acting chops, playing ugly criminal, (fake) loyal friend, dirty fighter, showboat, all in a way that conjures the early acting work of Tom Hardy.

Jordan uses song lyrics in accompanying R&B music to tell part of the story.  He incorporates slow-motion punch filming that seems to drive home the force of the fists in question.  He also brings the heart that began with Rocky’s relationship with Talia Shire’s Adrian.  He brings it through Creed’s wife, played again by Tessa Thompson, now transitioned from a rock star to a producer, but even more from his deaf daughter, who shows the signs of taking after her dad as far as anger management goes.  Language has an interesting place here.  Creed’s family, including his mom, played again by Phylicia Rashad, share sign language.  Creed begins the story retired from boxing (how many times did Rocky retire?), as a promoter, and his world champ is Felix Chavez, played by Jose Benavidez.  Chavez speaks Spanish with his mother as he negotiates his future, another language hidden from the others around them.  Jordan uses his visuals in a similar way–removing the crowd from the climactic final battle sequence.

The opening–before the title even roles–is very well done.  The ending doesn’t deliver like the rest of the movie, a little too much soft-touch in the story, but that’s a rare misstep.  It’s the one time Jordan taps a Rocky theme, and it doesn’t feel quite right.  Will this be the last entry in the Rocky franchise?  It seems silly for them to stop now–the film had the biggest sports moving theater opening of all time, which probably reflects the interest in the general public getting back to the theaters to see… anything.  Creed’s daughter will no doubt be the subject of the next, if there is one.  That could be fun.  But the bottom line is the franchise needs Stallone in each film.  Carl Weathers playing the ghost of Apollo Creed would be great, too.

Not as great as Creed, but better than Creed II.  It’s not the best, but it’s a worthy follow-up to the Rocky movies and a good tie-in.  Creed III is now streaming on Prime Video.

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