‘It’s your time’
Those were the last words Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) said to Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) after the latter won the fight against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) in ‘Creed II.’ Rocky’s character arc, which stretches way back to the Oscar-winning first movie in 1976, has finally given a proper yet emotional send-off. And here to refresh your memory, Rocky reunites with his estranged son, Robert Jr. (Milo Ventimiglia), in Vancouver and even finally meets his grandson, Logan (Robbie Johns), at the end of ‘Creed II.’
The first two ‘Creed’ may have been Michael B. Jordan’s show. Still, Stallone’s Rocky Balboa bridges the connective tissue between these aforementioned spin-offs and the original ‘Rocky’ franchise. As much as his journey has come to a full circle, I must admit it takes some time to get used to not seeing his iconic character in the franchise for the first time.
But in doing so, this means ‘Creed III’ allows Adonis to step out of Rocky’s shadow and forge his own path. Unlike ‘Creed’ and ‘Creed II’ involved Adonis facing unresolved matters from the ‘Rocky’ films that have to do with his late father, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), and challenged Viktor Drago. Whose father, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), used to be Rocky’s old nemesis in ‘Rocky IV.” This time, we get to see him dealing with his own past.
In ‘Creed III,’ Adonis enjoys his retirement after hanging up his gloves to spend more quality time with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and their hearing-impaired daughter, Amara (real-life deaf actress Mila Davis-Kent). They look like they are living the best days of their lives so far, but it’s just a matter of time before something is about to change.
A change comes in the form of someone from Adonis’ past, whose name is Damian Anderson, who turns out to be his childhood friend when they lived together in foster care. They were like brothers until an unfortunate incident landed Damian in prison for nearly a decade. And now, Damian’s back after being released from prison, and he has a score to settle – a result which eventually sees the two end up in a boxing ring.
The first ‘Creed’ was a well-told ‘Rocky’ spin-off, thanks to Ryan Coogler’s sure-handed direction in terms of its narrative prowess, knockout boxing sequences, and excellent performances all around. But the 2018 sequel lacked the finesse of Coogler’s first movie, replaced by Steven Caple Jr.’s capable but pretty much a cliché-ridden follow-up that looks like a retread of ‘Rocky IV.’ This time, the third film sees Michael B. Jordan himself calling the shots in his directorial debut. Jordan is undoubtedly a good actor of his current generation, but I’m not sure about him stepping in behind the cameras. Because, you know, it might result in a disastrous vanity project that should have given the reins to a more qualified director instead.
Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Michael B. Jordan’s first foray into directing since he does a better-than-expected job in ‘Creed III.’ He shows an amazing flair for the layered narrative and visual panache. For the former, Jordan successfully – though not entirely — turns Keenan Coogler (yes, he’s Ryan’s younger brother) and Zach Baylin’s screenplay into a stirring character-driven drama beyond its usual boxing-genre convention.
This is particularly evident with the personal conflict and bitter rivalry between Jordan’s Adonis and Majors’ Damian. We learn how the initial brotherhood in their past turns sour through flashbacks and Damian’s decades-later payback time, driven by a deep sense of hatred, contempt, and violence. And it all played out at a deliberate pace as Jordan took his time to flesh out the characters and the story, allowing sufficient room for development to make us feel emotionally invested in their strife.
This brings us to Jonathan Majors, who excels in one of the best antagonist roles in the ‘Rocky’ franchise since Dolph Lundgren’s unforgettably imposing turn as Ivan Drago in ‘Rocky IV.’ His transition from a person out of jail looking for a fresh start to an opportunist with a hidden agenda betraying the trust that Adonis stood up for him is undoubtedly a well-rounded character arc, and Majors nails the role effortlessly.
Majors may steal the show but let’s not forget about Michael B. Jordan, who brings a substantial level of nuance into his Adonis Creed character. Whether he shows confidence and a never-give-up attitude in the ring fighting against his opponents or interacting with his family (one of them includes predominant moments of verbal-free conversations spoken in American Sign Language (ASL); between him, his family, and their daughter Amara), Jordan does an overall great job managing his character well. The same also goes with the rest, namely Tessa Thompson and Mila Davis-Kent, which I’m glad Jordan doesn’t relegate to thankless supporting roles.
As a boxing movie, ‘Creed III’ contains some of the most thrilling set pieces ever staged in this spin-off trilogy and the overall ‘Rocky’ franchise. This is especially true with the final boxing match between Adonis and Damian, as Jordan incorporates a mix of dynamic camera angles and slow-motion shots of ferocious punches and body sweat. He even goes as far as making good use of IMAX cameras – reportedly the first in its sports genre ever filmed in such a way – and the result is nothing short of spectacular.
‘Creed III’ may retain some of its overused formulas that we have seen countless times before in boxing movies. But actor-director Michael B. Jordan proves that he has what it takes to make an excellent sequel and, most of all, a sequel that improves by leaps and bounds over the 2018 sequel.