CREED III – Review by Nadine Whitney

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In his directorial debut, Creed III, Michael B. Jordan isn’t reinventing the wheel in terms of a sporting story, but he is adding an emotional nuance to it that makes it more than an ex-friends turned enemies battle of wills.

Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Jordan) has retired at the top of his game. Three years have passed and he’s working as a promoter and with his trainer, Duke (Wood Harris) at his gym. Creed has a gorgeous daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), a still very loving marriage with Bianca (Tessa Thompson – excellent as always) and modelling contracts with major brands. His life seems mostly perfect until he is visited by someone from his past who brings up the trauma of his early years in group houses, before he was found by Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad) and given a chance at being the man he is now.

That person is Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors). When Adonis was fifteen (played by Thaddeus James Mixson Jr.) he followed “Diamond” Dame Anderson (played at eighteen by Spence Moore II) everywhere. They’d been in group homes together and Dame was coming up as an amateur boxer winning the Golden Glove. After a fight which Dame won with a KO in the first round, the young men stop off at a store where Adonis sees a man who beat him while he was in group homes. Adonis attacks and is quickly set upon by a group of men. Dame pulls a gun. The police show up and Adonis flees into the night. Dame doesn’t escape and spends eighteen-years behind bars.

The script by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin hits most of the beats one would expect. It’s also a little over-crowded in places. What makes the film sing is the kinetic direction by Jordan (the fight scenes are phenomenal) and the masterful performance by Jonathan Majors, who audiences will see again as a broken man trying to live a fantasy in Magazine Dreams. “Everyone loves an underdog story,” Creed says when he’s trying to convince his top boxer Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) to fight Dame after Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) is attacked and unable to compete. To an extent that is the basis of the Rocky and Creed franchises. In Creed III it is the core of the film. Majors plays Dame with such a mix of menace and melancholy that until it becomes clear that his goal is to obliterate Creed’s reputation and life, it’s hard for the audience not to root for him a little.

Creed III provides an immense training montage (audiences do love those) and truly inventive boxing sequences which are as much focused on character as they are the sport itself. However, it is the emotional core of the film that makes the work strong. Creed has to reckon with guilt, trauma, and things he has refused to speak of. Similarly, Dame has to deal with resentment, abandonment, and systemic abuse. A simple coin toss could have seen Dame living Creed’s life and they both know it.

Creed III is a blistering and effective directorial debut by Jordan who wears his heart on his sleeve as both director and actor. Majors could not be more perfectly cast as Dame – he is an actor that even at over six foot and looking like he could throw a truck across a room, is able to exude an internal intensity that is often astonishing. He’s a brawler, a bruiser, but also a bruised man. When it comes to the final fight “The Battle for L.A.” it feels that both Creed and Dame are fighting for their respective lives. Forgiveness is the key to Creed III, whether that be forgiving a child for his reckless actions or forgiving a man who was forged in the worst kind of fire. Jordan’s debut is a knockout.

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Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.