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‘Creed III’ (review)

Nearly five decades after the debut of Rocky, Creed III marks a turning point in the franchise as the first installment without Sylvester Stallone attached. This creates a world of opportunity for screenwriters Keenan Coogler & Zach Baylin (adapting a story by Ryan Coogler). Michael B. Jordan deftly juggles his dual roles as protagonist and director while carefully steering his title character down dual paths of retirement and reckoning in this highly entertaining directorial debut.

It would be simple to fall into the trope of a retired fighter blowing up at every small inconvenience, pacing and snarling like a caged tiger yearning to break free of a docile life.

Instead, our first glimpses of post-ring Adonis are full of family, satisfaction, and purpose – happily sipping from his daughter Amara’s tea set in the yard of his LA mansion; loving up on his wife Bianca (the always engaging Tessa Thompson) who has moved to producing music after her hearing loss, or stopping by his gym to check on his prize fighter.

Everything looks to a promising and well-deserved future, earned from years of perseverance.

But who decides who has paid the price and gets to live that dream life? As childhood friend and amateur boxing champion Damian (a stunning performance by Jonathan Majors) returns to the neighborhood following a stint in prison for an adolescent crime, he brings receipts that claim an unpaid balance in Adonis’ name. And how can Adonis square his blessed life when Damian is now there constantly reminding him that his path is less a story of reward and closer to “there but for the Grace of God, go I”?

This complex question, and the painful examination of the past that it forces, drives the emotion of the story on both sides. Damian is constantly simmering with a barely controlled rage from watching the life he could have had playing out through someone else’s gloves, while Adonis freezes and retreats to his corner when confronted with less savory parts of his history that he did not move past as much as discard.

At a release party for Bianca’s work, she asks Damian for more information about those sections of her husband’s little-discussed childhood. With a broad but mournful smile, he tells her “It takes work to look at the past”. Work that Adonis has been skipping for years with the help of his mother, who (increasingly without his knowledge) has quietly and carefully tucked away as much of his life on the streets as she could.

Majors is impeccable as Damian, smoothly flowing from a humble and good-hearted friend needing a second chance to a swaggering brute with little regard for anyone in the way of his relentless need to catch up. He exudes hunger in every scene, never fully sated no matter the win. Even after gaining the title, Damian uses his newfound fame to badmouth Adonis to anyone who will listen, forcing his former friend out of retirement to defend the life he has painstakingly crafted.

Jordan allows his character significantly more screen time to work through deep emotional flaws than expected in a sports franchise film while maintaining a brisk pace that makes the two hours fly by. Before you know it, they are facing off in a final battle that felt over too quickly, not because of a shortened sequence but because the film is just so damn watchable.

Creed III is well-deserving of an evening out at the movies, as a story this dynamic needs a comparable arena for viewing.

The emotions, the stakes, and the muscles are all huge in a way that demands an opening weekend trip rather than a wait-and-stream approach. Grab your popcorn because it is likely Creed III will be grabbing a few awards later this year.

*  *  *   *  *
Produced by Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler,
Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Elizabeth Raposo, Jonathan Glickman, Sylvester Stallone

Screenplay by Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin
Story by Ryan Coogler Keenan Coogler Zach Baylin
Based on Characters by Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Michael B. Jordan  
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors,
Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, Phylicia Rashad

 

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