‘Creed III’ Pulls No Punches

“Creed III” shows Michael B. Jordan at his best, in front and behind the camera.

“Creed III” is dramatic boxing at its best.

Directed by and starring Michael B. Jordan, “Creed III” follows Adonis Creed fighting his opponents — and himself.

After a prosperous boxing career in the previous “Creed” films, Adonis retires to the hills of Los Angeles, becoming a manager in the sport. At the height of his happiness, Adonis finds his new security at risk when an old friend comes knocking at his door.

Damian Anderson, Adonis’ former foster brother and ex-convict, makes his way back into Adonis’ life after spending 18 years in prison for armed assault. Having dreamt of becoming a boxer himself, Damian, played by Jonathan Majors, blames Adonis for living the life he always wanted.

Charming in conversation but brutal in force, Damian manipulates his way to the top of the boxing world. Once there, Damian relentlessly and publicly taunts Adonis out of an early retirement for one last bout in the ring.

Playing his second trilogy-capper villain this year, Majors (“Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” “Lovecraft Country,”) exudes intimidation as Damian. With a reckless demeanor and mountain-like build, Majors steals each scene as a charismatic, conniving brute. 

Jordan (“Black Panther,” “Chronicle”) as Adonis likewise turns out a powerhouse performance, showing a side of vulnerability briefly seen in the previous “Creed” films.

Remorseful for abandoning Damian and guilty of causing the incident that left him in prison, Adonis works to be an example of responsibility while juggling the care for his sick mother and deaf daughter.

Despite this, Adonis’ refusal to open up to others backs him into a corner of self-loathing which drives the dramatic heart of the film.

Jordan carries it all with a deep maturity, highlighting each of Adonis’ weaknesses and strengths. He’s a comforting father but thinks more through action than words. He’s a dutiful son but has a tenuous relationship with his mother. He’s a loyal husband but struggles to communicate with his wife. 

Adonis’ personal journey coincides with his physical. Coming out of a brief retirement and being older than his prime, Jordan believably portrays an aging athlete struggling to reclaim their peak — despite Jordan’s physique looking statuestic during the whole of the movie.

Even behind the camera, Jordan excels. Each punch and stare-down is given such meaningful weight and focus that, by the film’s end, it’s a battle of emotions just as much as fists.

Jordan’s inspiration from Japanese anime shines in these moments. Each fight in the ring is shot so energetically the combatants seem superhuman. The camera movement combined with sound mixing make it impossible for viewers not to feel each hit. 

It’s a testament to Jordan’s dramatic direction that in spite of the film’s title, the immense tension leaves the victor a mystery until the final moments of each fight.

The final battle experiments with the cerebral, with Jordan visually blocking out the audience to focus solely on Adonis and Damian. In this sequence, mental obstacles take shape, visually communicating the emotional turmoil of each fighter. It isn’t until both opponents furiously exhaust themselves that the moment switches back to reality.

With such creative editing and direction, “Creed III” easily sticks out from the Rocky/Creed catalog as having the most imaginatively brutal fights.

The sole drawback to “Creed III” is the absence of Sylvestor Stallone’s Rocky Balboa. His omission is notable given the boxer’s role in the previous “Creed” films and in shepherding the decades-long “Rocky” franchise.

While the exact reason seems to be creative differences, according to Variety, the end result is arguably the best “Creed” film about Creed. With no Rocky to guide or shadow, Adonis comes into his own as an iconic boxer with a surrounding cast and opponent personal to his story.

By the end of “Creed III” a strong sense of finality is felt for both the trilogy and Adonis’ emotional catharsis. In spite of this, Jordan has expressed interest in even more entries, with the possibility of Stallone returning, too.

With the future films on the horizon, there’s the chance of repetitive stories or odd directions that the “Rocky” fell into decades prior. But if these new entries are even half as passionately made as “Creed III,” then the franchise is in safe hands, or rather — fists.

“Creed III” is in theaters now.

Featured image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr