Movie Review: Creed III

Adonis Creed is back, but his foe brings more than just haymakers in this gripping sequel.


You’d be forgiven for harboring tempered expectations for “Creed III,” the ninth overall film in the Rocky series and third since the franchise shifted its focus to a young pugilist portrayed by Michael B. Jordan. Adonis Creed, the rags-to-riches boxer, has been tutored by Rocky Balboa and risen through the ranks; what can another chapter bring besides more fisticuffs?

As it turns out, it can bring a chilling meditation on the effects of unresolved trauma — a story about the poisonous power of shame. The fights are thrilling, but they’re a backdrop; the struggle is internal.

Didn’t see that coming.

Much of the resonance, and the inciting incident, comes with the arrival of superlative actor Jonathan Majors as Damian Anderson, Creed’s long-estranged friend. The boys lived in a group home as teens; it was Anderson, we learn, who was the budding fighter. After an unfortunate (and resonant) brush with violence, however, Anderson landed in jail; Creed went on to title fights and the high life.

Creed has retired on tap, giving up the sweet science for a life of training and raising his beloved daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). He bounces between a gym — where he trains a new champ, Felix (Jose Benavidez) — and the luxurious Los Angeles home that doubles as a recording studio for his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson).

When Anderson shows up outside the gym, Creed welcomes his old friend, haunted though he may be by the circumstances of their parting (and the fact that they haven’t spoken since Anderson was incarcerated). Anderson gets to know the family and works as a sparring partner for Felix. After a mysterious incident leaves Felix without an opponent, Anderson gets back in the ring — and, naturally, destroys the hapless champ.

A showdown will draw Creed out of retirement, of course, as Anderson pursues a path somewhere between revenge and repayment. As the fight approaches and Creed’s anger rises, however, it becomes clear that his obstacle is not the muscular new champion — it’s an unwillingness to confront, and process, the darker chapters of his childhood.

“Creed III” is the directorial debut for Jordan, and — if you’ll pardon an obvious pun — he comes out swinging. Determined to establish himself as a director with vision and style (and equally set on firmly pulling the franchise away from Rocky Balboa), he mines moments for depth and tactfully paces out glimpses into his character’s psyche. If a few moments feel more maudlin than they ought to — a subplot with Creed’s ailing mother (Phylicia Rashad) adds little — they cannot detract from the film’s power.

Yet even with a remarkable director/actor across the ring, it’s Majors that emerges as the film’s champion. As he demonstrated just two weeks ago in the “Ant-Man” sequel, there is no better villain working today — because no one makes a villain as compelling and supportable than Majors. Ignore the name on the poster; by the time the fighters climb in the ring, you’ll be rooting for Anderson.

My Rating: 9/10

“Creed III” is now playing in theaters.

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