Creed III (United States, 2023)

March 02, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Creed III Poster

Creed III is the first Rocky movie without Rocky. Considering the imbalance created by the Stallone/Jordan dynamic in Creed II, the decision to excise the Italian Stallion from the narrative framework makes sense. The Creed movies need to move forward without the distraction the Rocky character had become. Oddly, however, no mention is made of why the former titular pugilist is M.I.A. Although one could argue that the reason is immaterial, the failure to include a one-line explanation seems like an unforced error. Stallone was not involved in the film’s production, but he retains a contractually mandated Producer credit and “Gonna Fly Now” is inserted into the score at a key moment.

Creed III bears narrative and structural similarities to Rocky III and Rocky IV. Although Michael B. Jordan does a workmanlike job in his directorial debut (following up on the unremarkable work of Steven Caple Jr. in Creed II), the film is pure Boxing 101, incorporating every cliché and following a preordained trajectory from start to finish. This is only a bad thing for those expecting surprises; movies of this sort mostly trade in fulfilling expectations.

Creed III opens by flashing back to an event in the title character’s past. It introduces the film’s primary antagonist, Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), and explores the reason why he has a beef with Adonis Creed (Jordan). The story then skips forward a number of years to chronicle Creed’s final fight before following him into retirement, where he has traded in his boxing shorts for a three-piece suit. He runs a gym; grooms his protégé, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez); and is being a father to his deaf daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). While Creed does the stay-at-home-dad thing, his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), has transitioned from singing sensation to songwriter/producer. Creed’s mother, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad), has suffered a stroke but insists on continuing to live on her own.

Damian blows back into Adonis’ life like a hurricane. At first, he approaches his old “brother” as a supplicant, insisting what he wants: a shot at a title bout. Adonis listens but says it’s impossible. Felix will fight Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) for the unified belt. But when Drago is injured in an assault, a space opens up and Adonis urges the promoters to think outside the box. The result: Felix vs. Damian. Adonis soon finds himself in direct conflict with his revenge-minded ex-friend – a conflict that can only be resolved in the boxing ring.

By introducing ambivalence and shades of gray into Creed’s past interactions with Damian, Creed III offers more substance than the standard by-the-numbers boxing movie. The film is as much about confronting guilt as it is about beating another fighter into submission. As a director, Jordan does some artistic things with the final bout (condensing rounds 3-11 into a single montage that’s presented almost like a dream sequence – imagine a Rocky movie directed by Fellini) that break the monotony of a more traditional match.

Rocky’s absence allows more breathing space for the other characters although none of the returning principals evolves significantly. Attention is lavished upon the newcomers of Amara and Damian. It’s perhaps a testimony to the cultural influence of the MCU that the three main performers in Creed III have also appeared in Marvel movies. Of all the actors in this film, Jonathan Majors leaves the strongest and most lasting impression – a quality that will serve him well as his profile ascends. Tessa Thompson is underserved by the screenplay (much as was the case with Talia Shire in the Rocky movies).

Creed III was written with Creed fans in mind. It’s competently made but, on those occasions when it challenges norms of the genre, it does so gently and with minimal conviction. This is primarily a conventional boxing movie designed to allow viewers to root for the hero  and revel in the fictionalized gladiatorial conflicts that form the tent poles (there are three). It’s overall a better made and more engaging film than its predecessor but lacks the emotional depth and intensity of Creed. In short, by delivering the expected and doing so with style and intensity, it lands in the top tier of the nine Rocky universe movies, although falling short by a few titles from the pinnacle.

Creed III (United States, 2023)

Director: Michael B. Jordan
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Mila Davis-Kent, Jose Benavidez, Florian Munteanu
Home Release Date: 2023-05-23
Screenplay: Keenan Coogler & Zach Baylin
Cinematography: Kramer Morgenthau
Music: Joseph Shirley
U.S. Distributor: United Artists
Run Time: 1:56
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-05-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1