The Creed III Movie 2023 Review

Adonis Creed finally steps out of Rocky Balboa's shadow in Creed III. While Creed (2015) sought to reinvigorate the Rocky brand by focusing on Apollo Creed's son, it ultimately followed the so-called requel model, adhering too closely to the Rocky plot and giving viewers more of the same, but different.

The Creed III Movie 2023 Review

A similar problem made Creed II (2018) feel like an empty rehash of Rocky IV (1985), with Ivan Drago's brutal son as his opponent, except that the story was completely devoid of personal motivations for the boxers. Both films were underwritten, giving Jordan, a competent and fierce actor, little to do. Creed III corrects the problems of the previous films on almost every level. Star Michael B. Jordan makes an impressive directorial debut, delivering the best Creed yet and a sequel that outshines most of the Rocky films. 

The script focuses on the reasons why fighters enter the ring, setting up a set of high personal stakes. The boxing scenes involve more than just fighters punching each other; instead, they explore the strategy and technique of boxing. 

Jordan even turns the final fight into a visualization of Creed's state of mind, which is the most artistically expressive sequence of any of the Rocky-adjacent films. Overall, this is a well-written, passionately acted, and thoroughly entertaining boxing film. 

The Creed III Movie 2023 Official Trailer

Perhaps the most notable change in Creed III is the absence of series creator Stallone, whose Rocky reconnected with his estranged son at the end of Creed II. Stallone is still a producer, but he passes the baton to Jordan. From a script by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin (with contributions from Ryan Coogler), Jordan's film moves the story from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, the playground of young Adonis "Donnie" Creed (Alex Henderson). 

In a series of flashbacks that gradually reveal the full story over the course of the two-hour film, the film explores an incident from Donnie's teenage years involving an older teenage friend, Damian "Dame" Anderson (Spence Moore II). A Golden Glove champion, Dame showed promise as a professional boxer and served as a mentor to Donnie until an incident set them on divergent paths. 

In a tension reminiscent of Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), fate sent Dame to prison for 18 years while Donnie became a world-renowned champion. As the film opens, Dame, now played by Jonathan Majors, returns and seeks out his old friend, hoping he can revive his boxing career, even though he has never fought a professional match as an adult.

The Creed III Movie 2023

Creed III patiently establishes what will become a personal conflict between Donnie and Dame. Jordan and his writers correct a weakness of previous Creed installments by exploring Donnie's inner life, whereas previously his actions seemed to depend on Rocky. The antagonism between Donnie and Dame builds naturally, with Jordan and Majors evoking an obvious chemistry and unease that hints at their characters' troubled pasts. 

Early on, Donnie wins the world heavyweight title one last time before retiring in promoter mode. Likewise, due to his progressive hearing loss, his musician wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) retires from performing and resolves to produce. They live a well-to-do life with their deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), as evidenced by their luxurious home and the tender ASL scenes between them. They are the picture of success. 

But Dame's presence at the gym gradually destabilizes Donnie's professional and family life. Dame insists on a title shot against Donnie's star fighter Felix (Jose Benavidez), who is scheduled to fight Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). It also suggests that neither Donnie nor Bianca are as happy as they claim to be in their current roles, causing friction within the couple. 

Majors is a bubbling force of energy here, giving an embodied performance as Dame, not polished and unsteady, unlike anything the actor (from Da 5 Bloods to The Harder They Fall) has done before. After convincing Donnie to back him - with the line "If Apollo Creed can take a chance on an underdog, why can't you?" - Dame begins to promote his eventual fight against Felix. 

The Creed III Movie

He appears reserved in front of the cameras, almost stuttering, which allows the actor to deliver his most mannered performance to date. But the character's performance in the ring suggests to the trainer, Duke (Wood Harris), that Dame is "fighting the whole world and trying to hurt people." Donnie ignores this warning until Dame sends Felix to the hospital and he abruptly turns on his former friend, having obviously plotted for his success. 

Although Dame starts out as the underdog ex-con, the inevitable match between the two childhood friends makes Donnie an older, broken fighter with physical weaknesses from a career in the ring - an underdog in the sense that he is no longer in his prime, and Dame knows it.

But before Donnie can think about fighting Dame, he must confront repressed trauma: their difficult upbringing in an abusive home, which Donnie hid from Bianca, and Donnie's guilt over never reaching out to his friend while in prison. Even worse, his mother (Phylicia Rashad) deleted Dame's letters from prison, adding to Dame's sense of betrayal. While these events have made Dame a bitter rival, they also threaten to eat away at our hero, leaving him with unresolved baggage that he can only settle in the ring.

This conflict is a vast improvement over Creed's forgettable, issue-free opponent and Creed II's imposing non-entity. Also, when the usual training montage arrives thanks to editors Tyler Nelson and Jessica Baclesse, there is a sense of progression - the retired fighter must get back in shape and grapple with his psychological issues. 

If Dame fights with anger, Donnie must rely on his understanding of focus and timing. More importantly, it is about Donnie being able to communicate with emotional intelligence with Bianca about a past he has tried to forget, which results in a heartfelt scene between Jordan and Thompson. By extension, a subplot involving Amara's interest in boxing and a fight at her school makes her the stand-in for The Dead End Kids in Angels with Dirty Faces - her fate lies in the hands of whoever wins the final match, Dame or Donnie, anger or control.

Just as Stallone directed himself in several Rocky sequels, Jordan takes the reins and improves the formula in unexpected ways. The first-time director relies too heavily on CGI auditoriums to capture the huge crowd on fight night, but the coordination of the fights makes up for the artificiality of the backdrop. 

The Creed III

Jordan deploys a slow-motion strategy where Duke's coaching or Creed's eyes identify the opponent's weaknesses, and the viewer feels involved in the instantaneous reasoning behind each blow. Whereas most Rocky films featured unbridled violence without a hint of technique, Jordan shows an interest in the tactical maneuvers that underlie the sport. Best of all, when Donnie and Dame reach the emotional zenith of their match, everything else fades away. All at once, the fog surrounds the ring and the screams of the fans disappear. 

The opponents see each other as children, and real prison bars appear, locking them together in the ring. Jordan probably borrowed this effect from Raging Bull (1980) and the way Martin Scorsese turned the ring into a symbolic evocation of Jake LaMotta's emotional state. In Jordan's hands, these poetic touches show Donnie overcoming his mental blocks to focus on what becomes a tense, breathless boxing sequence. 

Of course, previous Rocky films have explored the fact that there is more to the hero than knocking out the other man. But Jordan incorporates this notion into the drama and direction, marking a welcome stylistic divergence from previous films in the franchise. It is this form of execution that follows function that makes Jordan's first turn so accomplished. Some may consider the film to be far too expressive for the usually down-to-earth Rocky films, echoing their understated hero. 

Creed III Movie

But Adonis Creed is a different kind of character, and he demands a different kind of film. Jordan also gives one of his best performances in the role, giving the character dimensions that previous versions had ignored. He does the character justice by discarding the elements of previous versions and making it his own. 

Majors, it must be said, enriches the film with a dangerous and urgent, but ultimately sympathetic rival. As a result, Creed III deserves a place among the best boxing movies for expressing that the ring is more than a modern day gladiatorial arena but, in cinema, a reflection of the inner lives of those inside.

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