'Creed III': Michael B. Jordan Shines as Actor and Director in This Knockout of a Sequel
When Ryan Coogler's Creed came out in 2015, it served as both a rebirth for the Rocky franchise, and the emergence of Michael B. Jordan as a major star. It would go on to become a huge critical and commercial success and spawn a sequel that was also positively received. Based on this, it comes as no surprise that a third film would be made. But this time, Michael B. Jordan himself is stepping into the director's chair. This is a great film for Jordan to make his debut with, as he has been a driving creative force for the character of Adonis Creed since the beginning, and knows him better than anyone. It's also quite fitting, as Creed III feels less like a legasequel, and more like its own thing, as if Jordan is taking full control of Creed's narrative. And as it turns out, Jordan shows a lot of promise behind the camera, and delivers a worthy continuation of the franchise that packs a serious punch.
Picking up several years after the events of the second film, we follow Adonis "Donnie" Creed (Michael B. Jordan) as he focuses on his family and a new phase in his career. When an old friend, Damien "Dame" Anderson (Jonathan Majors) returns after serving time in prison, it changes everything for Creed, as he finds himself reckoning with his past. On top of this, Dame, who was a teenage boxing prodigy, is out to prove that he has what it takes to achieve his dream of being the Heavyweight Champion of the World, which causes some issues in Creed's professional life. This builds to an epic face-off, where Creed must put everything on the line against a man with nothing to lose.
While I have certainly appreciated the references to the Rocky films in the previous Creed installments, it is nice to see this film keep them to a minimum. It is a bit sad that Sylvester Stallone doesn't pop up as Rocky here, given that he is one of the best aspects of the last two films, but I also feel that the story the film tells is solely about Creed and Dame, and doesn't really need Stallone, for lack of a better term. He is missed, but I do appreciate how this film manages to stand on its own in comparison to its predecessors. It allows for the film to build onto Creed's story without worrying too much about its ties to the Rocky movies, and feels so refreshing as a result. At a time where most legasequels heavily rely on references to past films and cameos from recognizable characters, it's great to see this film resist this for the most part, and break new ground while still honoring the franchise.
A lot of credit goes to Michael B. Jordan, as he excels both in front of and behind the camera. Jordan has this certain charm and charisma that we don't see on screen as much as we used to. It's this movie star-esque quality that makes him such a magnetic screen presence, and he deploys this perfectly with the character of Adonis Creed. This film is no exception, as Jordan once again turns in a fantastic performance as the character. The film has a strong emotional core to it as well, which allows Jordan to tap into a more vulnerable side of the character at times. It's a great complement to the boxing scenes, which are well-crafted, and helps give the character of Creed more dimension.
From a directorial standpoint, this is an absolutely solid debut from Jordan, as he is so in tune with the universe of the Creed films, but he is able to put his own spin on things, as well. The boxing scenes are the best example of this, which according to Jordan himself, are partially inspired by Anime. There is an electricity to these sequences, and the way Jordan uses the camera to put the audience right in the middle of the action and the heads of the fighters is quite incredible. These moments are a highlight of the film, with the final face-off acting as a jaw-dropping spectacle that is among the best of not only the Creed movies, but the entire Rocky franchise as well. Jordan doesn't take many big swings outside the fight scenes, but that might be for the best. He shows that he has the ability to make bold stylistic choices that work, but the rest of the film is a bit more modestly directed. If nothing else, this serves as an interesting appetizer for future directorial projects from him, and I certainly would love to see what else he has up his sleeves in that department.
Of course, the script also does a great job of building on the Creed universe. It is structured so well, and even if it hits a few familiar beats along the way, it still pays off like a slot machine in the end. Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin might not be reinventing the wheel, but they provide a great foundation that Michael B. Jordan and company build off of beautifully. In some ways, this film is a crowdpleaser, but it is such an effective one that it's hard not to be mad at it.
Michael B. Jordan is undoubtedly the star of the show here, but that's not to say that the rest of the cast don't turn in great work as well. Jonathan Majors is especially excellent, and his performance as Dame acts as a great foil to Creed. Majors certainly has range, and this film gives him a chance to play a tougher, more aggressive character than usual. He absolutely nails it, and is both intimidating and endearing. The relationship between Dame and Creed is the heart and soul of the film, and both Majors and Jordan are an incredible duo. They are excellent together, and their scenes together are the best parts of the film. Tessa Thompson is also great as usual, even if she is sidelined for large stretches of the film. I also enjoyed Wood Harris and Phylicia Rashad, as they do great supporting work here.
Creed III is quite an amazing feat, as it is both an excellent sequel and an incredible directorial debut. It may tread some familiar territory, and be a tiny bit formulaic, but it is hard to deny that the film is an absolute knockout. It is a strong entry in both the Creed trilogy and the Rocky franchise, and is an early contender for one of my favorite films of the year. It is uplifting, invigorating, and has some of the best fight scenes of the past several years. This film is definitely a heavy-hitter, and it proves that Michael B. Jordan truly has the goods both as an actor and as a director.