Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Rocky franchise is considered one of the most successful franchises in film history, with five sequels to the original film, written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. The inevitable spinoff series was created to capitalize on the popularity, and most importantly, to make money for MGM. Stallone was fazed back into the story, with Ryan Coogler coming off of his breakout hit Fruitvale Station. He cast his young star Michael B. Jordan in the lead role as the estranged son of deceased legend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). With Sallone's Rocky as his mentor, and this franchise was off and running. Fast forward eight years later, and Creed III is coming out in theaters, once again starring Jordan as Creed, but this time he's also making his directorial debut.
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is again fighting the same fighter from the last film, but when he eventually wins another championship fight, he does the sensible thing and retires as the champ. He wants to spend more time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and daughter Alana (Mila Davis Kent). Out of the blue, an old childhood friend — Damien "Dame" Anderson (Jonathan Majors) — returns, bringing back memories of a past that he would just rather forget. The problem is Anderson isn't in the forgetting mood because he spent eighteen years in prison and his future is now. This causes a rift between these two childhood friends.
The Creed franchise has taken on a life of its own, and with Coogler writing and Jordan directing and starring in the latest installment, there wasn't much room for Stallone anymore. That's not a problem, though. These two have taken what they learned from the previous installments and made another stellar film that pulls on the heartstrings, as films in these franchises tend to do. This movie has a lot of emotional heft that these films are famous for. They are also famous for having contrivances that cause the most dramatic moments in many films in both franchises. This one is no different, with a major contrivance that changes the trajectory of where the story started and where it ended. It's not bad, it's just normal for these films. Fans of the franchise should expect this though.
Jonathan Majors has had three films come out in the last four months, with Creed III being his fourth in five months. If audiences haven't discovered him by now from Devotion, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantummania, and his indie Sundance film Magazine Dreams, they are missing out. This character might be the most nuanced of the bunch. He uses the anger of being in jail to fuel his rage, and creates an inner-city accent to go along with it. His character is from the Crenshaw section of Los Angeles and has a chip on his shoulder. He feels left behind and forgotten, while Jordan's Creed went on to success. That would fuel anyone's return. Majors once again kills it in this role. He seemed to be born to play this character.
With Jordan in the director's chair, there were bound to be some hiccups. He learned the craft from working with Denzel Washington, Destin Daniel Cretton, and of course his previous director of three films, Ryan Coogler. He chose to do a few things that were out of the ordinary with this movie. One of which I think was a lucky mistake, and that was turning the climactic fight into some kind of existential journey of self-discovery for the main character. A timelapse sequence was inserted, maybe by mistake, due to the COVID-19 outbreak creeping its ugly head into the production of the film. This actually worked well for the climax of the film. It showed the binds and mindset of where these two main characters were coming from. A series of flashbacks was another decision that was used to good effect to set up this rivalry. It gave the viewers backstory on these two, once childhood friends, now bitter enemies.
If the main story taking up the bulk of the film by Coogler and Jordan wasn't enough, they also throw in a few subplots that put the dramatic tension to an all-time high. One of them worked, while the other did the mistakable job of putting the cart before the horse. Many franchises (the Fast & Furious franchise comes to mind) do this, and it's not necessarily wrong to set up sequels or spin-offs, but nobody knows how this movie will do. Setting up more films before this one is released is a mistake. These characters have been proven to be very popular, so I understand trying to capitalize on that popularity. The profitability will surely be there. MGM has to learn from past mistakes of other film companies like Universal, whose Dark Universe we all know the fate of.
One of the things I've always loved about the Rocky and Creed franchises is the emotional weight these films have. As a viewer, they bring out moments that can get a tear or two flowing from the eyes. This movie does that. Whether it's the rivalry of these two once-childhood friends or the relationship between husband and wife, these stories never cease to pull at the heartstrings. We can't help but be emotionally tied to what we're seeing on screen. Many people can relate to the struggle of Majors's character in some way, but they have also gone through similar tragedies and emotional trauma Creed is going through. It's just how life is sometimes. Whether it's Sylvester Stallone or Michael B. Jordan, both actors seem to have been made for these characters. And audiences keep coming back for more and more.
With everything else going on in this movie, the thing that almost gets lost in the shuffle is the technical aspect. Jordan filmed this third installment in the Creed franchise with IMAX cameras. He wanted to get the people watching to be invested in the fight scenes. That being said, I wasn't able to see the film in the proper aspect ratio to get the full effect of that. What I saw though was very impressive, and I can only imagine how much better this would have come off had I had the opportunity to see it in an IMAX theater.
Creed III is a joyous, thrilling film that pulls on the heartstrings while also being dramatic. Coogler and company balance the story and layer it well. It gives everybody involved many moments to shine. That being said, Majors is again the standout in another big franchise tentpole film. He brings an emotional heft that this movie needed to get the audience behind the title character. His acting lately has been off the chain, and he seems to have no ceiling regarding his acting ability. This movie will be a huge success, and my minor quibbles with a few things won't matter to the layman, who will flock to see this third installment of a franchise that seemingly will never go away. I hope they keep making films like this one, and I'll keep coming back time after time. This is an achievement in popcorn filmmaking by Jordan, Coogler, Majors, and the entire cast and production involved.
Creed III hits theaters on March 3.