As popular as it is to complain about Hollywood’s lazy reliance on reboots, re-imaginings, spinoffs and legacy sequels to older properties, all evidence suggests that “Rocky” continuation “Creed” has worked out for the best. I’m not just talking about the first “Creed” from 2015, but the entire “Creed” sub-franchise, including the first sequel from 2018 and, of course,the new movie “Creed III.” These movies have done well creatively – all above 80% with both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes – and commercially, with the first two making over $100 million at the domestic box office, and the third almost certain to follow suit after a $58 million opening weekend. Keeping in mind that I’m calling the whole trilogy a success, I don’t think it’s out of line to say that “Creed III” is the weakest entry.
Michael B. Jordan is back as boxer Adonis “Donnie” Creed, son of the legendary Apollo Creed. He’s certainly done an excellent job of carrying on his late father’s legacy, even surpassing it in many ways. He’s retired at the top of his game and is an attentive father to Amara, played by Mila Davis-Kent; his daughter with his wife Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson. Apollo wasn’t much of a father, with Donnie not even knowing about him until after his death. He lived in a group home until he was a teenager, when he was taken in by Apollo’s wife Mary Anne, played by Phylicia Rashad. He mostly left his old life behind, save for maintaining a friendship with aspiring boxer Damian Anderson. An altercation a few years later saw a gun-toting Damian arrested, while Donnie fled and was allowed to continue on his path to greatness. Now “Dame,” played by Jonathan Majors is out of prison and looking to make a name for himself as a boxer. The odds are against him, given his age and record, but at least he has a connection with the former champion – a connection he’s not afraid to exploit.
Donnie tries to be helpful, but reasonable, getting his old friend sparring work with current champion Felix Chavez, played by Jose Benavidez Jr., despite the protests of his business partner Duke, played by Wood Harris. But Dame isn’t satisfied with sparring. He wants a shot at the title. He even sabotages a highly-promoted upcoming fight to create an opening for a Rocky-like underdog challenge. And after he takes the belt from Felix, there’s the matter of the personal score to settle with Donnie. Let’s just say the two aren’t eager to talk it out. Cue training montages and pageantry of the big fight.
The good news is that Dame is a particularly well-written and acted character. It isn’t far-fetched that Donnie has been keeping this skeleton in his closet through two films, as he’s clearly been struggling to leave various traumas behind. And I was much happier with the talented Majors as the villain in this movie than I was with him as the bland Kang in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” a few weeks ago. The scenes where he plays head games with Jordan are the film’s highlights, along with emotionally-charged scenes involving Jordan, Thompson and Rashad.
The bad news is that there aren’t a whole lot of other things that work about “Creed III.” Thompson gets an arc where she encourages nonviolence, but nothing ever comes of it. It seems like the whole world of title contenders is limited to Donnie’s circle of friends in Los Angeles. A death scene feels wedged in because there’s an unofficial rule that these movies have to kill off one important character per entry. A gimmick used for the final fight scene is laughably heavy-handed, and I don’t mean in the good way that’s advantageous in boxing. Plus there’s no Rocky to be found, as Sylvester Stallone has had a falling-out with this franchise. Director Ryan Coogler is out as well, though Jordan himself does an admirable job of carrying the franchise to a satisfying conclusion. But I think “Creed” needs to end here before it loses the upper hand.
“Creed III” is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some language. Its running time is 116 minutes.
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