Creed III review: Not a total knockout, but a strong return

In “Creed III,” Michael B. Jordan steps into the director’s chair, while Jonathan Majors plays his formidable adversary in the boxing ring.

In “Creed III,” Michael B. Jordan takes on the dual role of actor and director, marking a departure from the presence of Sylvester Stallone, who was a fixture in the franchise until this installment. Jordan, reprising his role as Adonis Creed, steps into the director’s chair for the first time in a feature film.

“Creed III” faces challenges with its storytelling structure, possibly due to Michael B. Jordan’s dual roles as actor and director. While it may lack the heft and specificity of its predecessors, the film manages to surpass the blunt-force melodrama of the previous installment. This improvement is notable considering the departure of Ryan Coogler, the original director, and his replacement by Steven Caple Jr.

In “Creed III,” Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Donnie Creed is more straightforward compared to Ryan Coogler’s nuanced direction in the previous film. Donnie is depicted as an aging champion content with his family life, residing in a luxurious home in Los Angeles with his wife Bianca and their young daughter. The film emphasizes Donnie’s settled life and his supportive relationship with his family, including regular visits from his late father’s widow, Mary Anne.

Damian “Dame” Anderson, portrayed by Jonathan Majors, is depicted as a character who contrasts with Donnie’s comfortable life. Once close as brothers during their time in foster care, Dame faced consequences after a violent incident at a gas station years ago, resulting in his imprisonment. Now released and determined to reclaim his lost junior title in the boxing ring, Dame seeks to rebuild his life and regain what he lost during his time behind bars.

In the familiar trope of many second sequels that came before, Adonis finds himself pulled back into the world of boxing when faced with the challenge of defeating his old friend turned rival, Damian. As they prepare for their climactic face-off, Adonis wears snow-white satin while Damian dons all black, symbolizing the stark contrast between them and the clarity of their rivalry. Throughout the film, there’s a sense of straightforwardness in messaging; nuances and shades of gray are not given much consideration. The screenplay, penned by Zach Baylin and Keenan Coogler, hits its narrative beats with precision, while Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors deliver performances filled with intensity and determination, embodying their characters’ singular purpose with ferocity.

The supporting characters, such as Thompson’s gentle bohemian songstress and Wood Harris’s harried trainer, orbit around the central stars, attempting to contain their powerful presence but ultimately having little impact. Majors, who has been ubiquitous in recent years, brings a wounded menace to his role, portraying the layers of fury and grief beneath the surface of his character. He’s not simply a stereotypical meathead villain but a complex and troubled individual. However, despite the strong performances of the supporting cast, it’s Creed’s name on the movie poster and his journey to reclaim his championship belt that remains the focus. And in the end, would audiences have it any other way?

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