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'Creed III' Review

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February 24, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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With Creed III, the reins (or should I say gloves?) of the Rocky franchise have been fully passed down from Sylvester Stallone's The Italian Stallion to Michael B. Jordan's Adonis Creed. And in typical Rocky fashion, Jordan plants himself further into this universe by stepping into the director's chair, taking over after Ryan Coogler successfully revived this tired franchise in 2015 and Steven Caple Jr. adeptly continued that ascending trajectory in 2018. Fortunately for Jordan, he displays a higher quality of skill both in front and behind the camera than Stallone did with his sequels, which have the added benefit of decades worth of nostalgia to make it palatable.

For the first time in this now nine-film franchise, the character of Rocky Balboa is totally absent from the story, with no mention of how he's doing in Vancouver with his estranged son and grandson. Adonis now sits somewhere in between his shoes from the first two films, and that of Rocky's, as he decides to hang up the gloves after a successful career. But while he deals with his new post-retirement future, a figure from the past shows up unannounced. It's Damian Anderson, Adonis' older brother figure from when he was moving between group homes and running from the law. An incident from their youth caused Damian to spend the next eighteen years in prison, stripping him of his "rightful" opportunity to become the best boxer in the world after making a name for himself on the amateur circuit.

Adonis tries to make up for lost time by extending an olive branch to Damian in the form of taking him under his wing and preparing him for a title shot. Quickly things get out of control as Damian's pent-up rage and resentment take over, threatening to destroy Adonis' legacy as a boxer and the future he hopes to build as a leader. So, in the spirit of brotherly love, Adonis must protect what's his through the only means he knows how to: with his fists.

It may come as a shock to you, especially after that plot description, to know that Creed III spends just as much time debating the morals of fighting vs using your words as it does delivering those bone-crunching blows to the head. But while Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin's script may take its time talking about why fighting doesn't solve everything, the overall narrative and kinetic work delivered by Jordan as a director say otherwise. A small subplot appears in the form of Amara dealing with bullies at school, an on-the-nose metaphor for Adonis and his situation, one that is quickly abandoned as soon as it could really mark a shift in the philosophy in this franchise. Maybe it was foolish of me to think that things could change even a little at this stage because we know that all the talk of not wanting to fight means nothing once the going gets tough.

The going doesn't really need to get tough here either for Adonis to lay down the challenge, just a few inconveniences and shots at his ego, which is subtly examined by Damian as he mentions the privilege the Creed surname has afforded Adonis.

Jordan has mentioned repeatedly the inspiration that the anime genre had on the filming of the boxing scenes, a statement that he capably backed up with the final product. Gone is Coogler's fluid camerawork and long takes (except for one modest sequence early on), replaced with a not-egregious-but-still-considerable amount of Zack Snyder slow motion. It's used sparingly, mainly to focus on the split-second decisions made in the ring that can win or lose a fight. The sound of blows landing does rumble throughout the theater, with the final moments having the same raw power as a fighting game character unleashing their combo meter.

Majors fills out the role of the final boss with immense theatricality, displaying the unbelievable threat he is with his cagey movements and fighting style. Jordan is the more composed one of the pair, preaching how boxing is more about control and strategy than it is about violence. And the always-great Tessa Thompson is regretfully sidelined to merely being a support figure to Adonis rather than the richer character she was in the original.

Creed III may be the weakest of its trilogy, but the fact that the seventh, eighth, and ninth entries are all the best of a franchise is an accomplishment by itself, even more so when you factor in the inherent limitations of the boxing genre. Jordan and Coogler (and Stallone to an extent) have found a way for this cycle of storytelling to remain relevant, even if it sometimes punches below its weight class.

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