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Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed in CREED III. A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film
Photo credit: Eli Ade
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CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Michael B. Jordan in Creed III.Eli Ade/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Allied

Creed III

Directed by Michael B. Jordan

Written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin

Starring Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Majors and Tessa Thompson

Classification PG; 116 minutes

Opens in theatres March 3

Critic’s Pick

Much like Rocky parts three through six, there is a nagging lack of existential purpose to Creed III, the latest entry in a franchise that would sooner die in the ring than admit defeat.

The life and career of boxer Adonis Creed, the disenfranchised son of original Rocky Balboa enemy Apollo, was covered well enough in the previous two Creed films. Those movies, especially the first entry that was directed by a pre-Black Panther Ryan Coogler, were muscular epics that traded equally on the power of nostalgia and the thrill of the new. Sylvester Stallone got to remind audiences just how charming and vulnerable he could be when the star actually puts in the effort, while new leading man Michael B. Jordan blazed a fresh, fiery legacy of his own. Adonis knocked down every competitor who came his way, and Rocky got the closure that the contender deserved. Win-win.

Yet here we are again, back in a fight club that ignores the first rule of fight club. This is a series that just can’t shut up about itself, so convinced it is that audiences are desperate to be hit over and over again with its underdog grandeur. And perhaps this is just me having been pummelled into submission one too many times, but … maybe Team Creed is actually right, and this is a franchise that deserves to keep on tussling forever and ever? There is very little new in Creed III, but almost everything that is here works tremendously. So much so that I could see the Creed movies extending into Fast and Furious territory. I, for one, would watch Jordan punch Vin Diesel in space, wouldn’t you?

But back on planet Earth, Creed III tells a story that takes the best parts of the Rocky franchise and blends them into a sort of rock-’em-sock-’em comfort food, so fighting-form slick it slides down your gullet like a raw-egg smoothie.

After becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, Adonis is living the high, semi-retired, eight-pack-ab life. When he’s not busy managing the next generation of boxers alongside his long-time trainer Duke (Wood Harris), he’s enjoying cute little tea parties with his young daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) and making out with his pop-star producer wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson). But then a long-forgotten figure from his past, one-time boxing prodigy Damian (Jonathan Majors), reappears in Adonis’s life, fresh from serving 18 years in jail and eager for a shot on the world stage.

Open this photo in gallery:
Jonathan Majors stars as Damian Anderson and Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed in CREED III. A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film

Photo credit: Eli Ade

Jonathan Majors and Michael B. Jordan in Creed III.Eli Ade/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Allied

There is nothing deceptively simple about this plot – it is just simply simple. Adonis has to once again face his traumatic upbringing by getting into the ring, his family once again has to balance their love for him with their fear for his health, and an ostensible villain once again gets to be both despicable and sympathetic. And, naturally, everything is backgrounded by an intense desire from the filmmakers to deliver at least one, if not two or three, stand-up-and-cheer moments.

But every expected, almost obligatory element of the Rocky franchise – which constitutes its own genre by this point, having evolved beyond, or perhaps bent to its will, the “boxing movie” as we know it – is executed with an ambitious, energetic level of big-picture panache. There are fist- and heart-pumping training montages, excellently choreographed fights that are as brutal as they are beautiful, and a head-bopping soundtrack that smoothly slips between propulsive hip hop and the stirring chords of Bill Conti’s original Rocky theme. The great trick of the Rocky movies – at least the ones not involving robot butlers – is that they build you up, knock you down, then somehow lift you right back to your feet, the roar of the crowd deafening any of your hesitations or doubts.

This would all be impressive enough if delivered by a returning Coogler, or even Creed II director Steven Caple Jr. But the fact that Jordan himself decided to sit in the director’s chair this time – making his feature-film directorial debut – levels everything up a notch. The actor is as engaging and captivating as ever onscreen as Adonis, yet he’s just as present and committed behind the camera, delivering a stirring string of heartwarming and jawbreaking moments that add up to something if not exactly unique, than certainly rousing, effective and entertaining.

Shooting the boxing scenes in IMAX, Jordan gets his camera as close to the spit, sweat and blood of battle as possible. This is a large-canvas movie that deserves to be seen with the surround-sound smack and big-screen blow that only a movie theatre can provide.

Jordan also proves himself to be a rather generous co-star: The film’s juiciest moments are not reserved for Adonis, but for Damian. And Majors, so cruelly denied the opportunity to do just about anything of interest as the villain in last month’s Ant-Man sequel, savours every chance to rule the screen here. His character is half Ghost of Christmas Past and half Bizarro-Drago, a storm of bad decisions and fierce instincts. There is an unpredictability, an electric danger even, to what Majors does onscreen as Damian – so much so that it seems that not even Jordan’s camera can anticipate what move the actor might make next.

The director handles his film’s domestic-drama scenes with slightly less confidence and comprehension – he can’t seem to untie the knotty tensions between Adonis and Bianca, even seemingly watering down Adonis’s big childhood secret – but overall Jordan deserves to fulfill his multihyphenate ambitions.

The entire production is ultimately so satisfying that it’s almost over before Stallone’s absence even registers. For whatever reason, the once and forever Rocky Balboa decided to sit this sequel out – there was talk of artistic differences, not that ever stopped Stallone before – meaning that Jordan has to carry this franchise almost entirely on his gym-sculpted back. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new champ.

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