Though I enjoyed Creed II, I blamed the fall-off in visceral and dramatic involvement on the absence of Ryan Coogler at the helm, though it may have had more to do with the usual expectations. Coogler rebooted the Rocky franchise with a vibrant story that not only built on the original legacy but made a potent claim for its own right to exist. Star Michael B. Jordan directs the third installment—the first one without Stallone—which retains much of the excitement of the first movie but also seems to lack any attempt at originality. The film is a compendium of boxing movie cliches that, while staged with brio and heart, doesn’t do much to advance the premise that Coogler so winningly put forth.
One issue is the way the movie posits a component of Adonis “Donnie” Creed’s (Jordan) childhood as being formatively tragic but somehow forgotten. In flashbacks, we see a teenage Donnie hanging out with his best friend, Damien “Dame” Anderson, doing the usual mischief that kids do, but when things turn dangerous it’s Dame who is sent up for weapons possession, with Donnie free to go on to become the heavyweight champion of the world, even though Dame showed more promise as a boxer in his youth. When the movie starts, Donnie is already on the brink of retirement, having earned millions as a fighter and hoping to concentrate on his family and turn to coaching while helping his musician wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), cope with her encroaching deafness. And then Dame (Jonathan Majors) shows up after finally getting out of the slammer to reclaim what he believes is his—a shot at greatness in the ring, just like Donnie got. That he approaches this goal obliquely, using Donnie’s guilt to get him back in the game and then manipulating that guilt to challenge Donnie’s legacy as one of the greatest, is the core theme that Coogler, who sketched out the story, and the writers, Keegan Coogler and Zach Baylin, flesh out.
The movie’s most powerful moments can be credited to Majors, who, along with his role in the recent Ant-Man movie, has become the heavy of the season (a status that, unfortunately, has been reinforced by offscreen reports of domestic abuse). Donnie is still in the game through his support for the newest champion, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez), and Dame maneuvers himself, through a form of intimidation that he ramps up continually, to demand a challenge to the champ that Donnie falls for and then regrets. Matters come to a predictable head with Donnie reentering the ring to take on Dame himself, and while I found the mechanics of this development contrived, Majors keeps it intense and Jordan is forced to keep up in response, making it a confrontation for the ages. Even the requisite training montages (what would a Rocky installment be without them?) add to the thrill. What suffers is all the peripheral business that Coogler balanced so effectively in the first Creed, in particular, Donnie’s home life and Bianca’s place in it. In Creed III Thompson has little to do but question Donnie’s motives and when personal tragedy strikes it feels hollow. Creed III is a better-than-average boxing movie, which isn’t saying much because boxing movies comprise a genre that’s already overextended.
Opens May 26 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Marunouchi Piccadilly (050-6875-0075), 109 Cinemas Premium Shinjuku (0570-060-109), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Creed III home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2023 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.