Adonis Creed finds himself at a major crossroads in his life and career — just as much as Actor-turned-Director Michael B. Jordan — in Creed III.
Michael B. Jordan makes his Directorial Debut while reprising his role as Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed. Jordan manages both well, but not without error; in this film that lands most of its punches even while taking its eyes off the prize ever so slightly.
The Plot — Creed III
We’ve seen Donnie spend time behind bars as a kid before. This time, we see his life didn’t completely change overnight when Mary-Anne Creed adopted him into a life of luxury. He had a friend named Damian who gave up everything to save Donnie.
It’s 2002, and Donnie pals around with his slightly older ‘brother’ from the Group Home, Damian. Donnie and Damian share a love of boxing, and want to rise up through the sport.
After winning an amateur fight, Damian and Donnie head off to the liquor store to celebrate Damian’s victory. Unfortunately, trouble finds Donnie in the form of yet another kid from the group home, named Leon Donnie quickly gets in over his head, when Damian jumps in to save his hide.
Right as Damian saves Donnie, the cops get there and find Damian with a gun — a big nono for someone who already has priors at his age. Off Damian goes into the system, his dreams for his life seemingly over for good.
Jump ahead 17 years, and Adonis Creed sits at the top of his boxing career, and his life in general. Happily married, happily retired from the ring; Donnie’s now a successful promoter at the heart of the heavyweight division.
Oscar De La Hoya meets Don King, Donnie’s now the guy-behiind-the-guy, promoting Heavyweight Champion Of The World, Felix Chavez, played by Jose Benavidez. Little Duke does the training, Stitch does the stitching, and Donnie sits back enjoying the fruits of his labor. What could possibly go wrong??!!
Now noticeably older, Damian’s FINALLY free from prison. Ankle bracelet keeping an ever-present leash on him, Damian rides the bus out to the suburbs.
Seemingly humbled and polite, he works his way to a parking lot; where he sets his bag down — on the hood of somebody’s car. Out comes Donnie asking this stranger to remove the bag off the hood of his ride. It’s been so long, Donnie doesn’t even recognize the guy who took the fall and went to jail for him. Give him a second, and he sees it. Damian.
The Good — Creed III
Like any film in the Rocky Cinematic Universe — Okay, that’s a bit much. But, any film in the Rocky Franchise needs to have good boxing scenes/matches/fights; and Creed III has THREE distinct fights that also tell the story of the characters.
Boxing in Rocky and Creed movies isn’t just a couple of guys hitting each other in the ‘squared circle’. The fights reflect the characters’ inner journeys, and push their narratives forward at the same time.
Fight #1 comes near the beginning of the film as a callback to the first Creed film from 2015. We see the inevitable rematch between Donnie and the antagonist from the first film, ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan. We get closure on Creed 2015, and see how far Donnie’s come.
Fight #2 introduces us to the fighting skills of Jonathan Majors’ version of Damian’s character; and we see just how focused and motivated Damian has gotten after two decades behind bars. The style of Damian’s fighting really shows off his unique blend of focus and rage, even if his proper boxing skills aren’t properly developed and refined.
Both of these fights show off Donnie and Damian’s fighting styles, but also the ‘Why’ of why they fight affecting their style of fighting. Fun to watch, but also like a well choreographed dance sequence.
The Good — Creed III
The Larger Story
If the larger plan for the Creed franchise is to produce a Quintology of films patterned off the 5 Rocky films, Creed III does a great job of establishing the high water mark of Adonis Creed’s journey, just like Rocky III did in Rocky Balboa’s journey.
Without simply copy/pasting the script/plot from Rocky III, new Director Michael B. Jordan does a great job establishing what the peak of Donnie’s character looks like. We get a realistic look at what the Business side of the Boxing world looks like, outside of the weighins, press conferences, and fight preparation we’ve come to know and love in the previous 8 movies of the Rocky Franchise.
We see the day to day business of running the business of a gym, how the schmoozing of fighters and promoters gets done to set up these ‘Heavyweight Championship Of The World’ mega-fights, and the toll that the world takes on the Boxers’ families.
The Larger story maintains focus relatively well, except when it comes to the Creed family, and more specifically, the husband/wife dynamic and the father/daughter dynamic. So much time is spent building up the father/daughter relationship for future films in the Creed series — dropping seeds for Creed IV and Creed V, we do lose some focus on the central conflict of Creed III.
Considering all the work Michael B. Jordan does wearing the Director AND Star hats in this film, it’s amazing how focused he keeps the story; but I do think a more experienced Director would’ve known to dial back the family storylines a little in favor of the central conflict of this movie.
The Bad — Creed III
When you have a strong Directorial Debut, some nitpicking is bound to happen, even if the overall film is strong. That nitpicking comes down to the runtime/editing in Creed III’s case.
My GUESS is that Micheal B. Jordan, especially as a First Time Director, was contractually obligated to bring in the total runtime of his movie to a specific length. And, since the run time of Creed 3 comes in at four minutes short of EXACTLY two hours, my strong suspicion is that that represents the watermark.
As the scale of Creed 3 expands Adonis Creed’s world, trying to keep the runtime of the film down becomes increasingly hard. And, when Director Michael B. Jordan seems determined to spend time in Creed III planting seeds for Creed IV and Creed V, the hard limits on runtime really become apparent.
The sacrifice in the runtime battle falls on the Donnie/Damian storyline in particular, and without giving away spoilers, the primary scene that hurts the film is the confrontation scene on Stephen A. Smith’s show seen in the trailers. This should be the dramatic high point that sets up the entire back half of the film, but instead gets rushed through in order to keep the runtime down.
This makes the editing suffer, not so much from a shot-to-shot editing perspective, but from a pacing and scene-to-scene perspective. By letting the scenes between father/daughter take up so much screen time and having a hard time limit, Jordan makes sacrifices to the cinematic integrity of the rest of the film.
This isn’t a fatal flaw, but a more experienced Director might’ve been able to sweet talk the studio into a 10–20 minute longer runtime to fully flush out the story. For example, Ryan Coogler got 133 minutes of runtime for the first Creed movie, or 13 minutes OVER the two hour mark. And, Creed 2015 marked Coogler’s SECOND feature film, and fifth overall Directorial outing.
The Review — Creed III
One of the sayings in Hollywood is that ‘making a Directorial Debut is best done in a sequel to a popular franchise’, since MANY of the difficult decisions for the movie have already been made in the prior movies. Casting, tone, messaging, and even Production Design have essentially already been done, or at least provide a benchmark for the *NEW* Director to base his or her decisions for the next film.
Michael B. Jordan benefits from that philosophy in Creed III, having not just starred in all three Creed films; but also having Ryan Coogler as a Producer on this film, and Ryan Coogler’s brother Keenan as a Co-Writer on the film.
As the Ninth film in the Rocky Franchise, and the third Creed movie, this film could’ve easily slid off the rails into eye-rolling, ‘hear we go, again’ territory. But, Michael B. Jordan’s Directorial vision keeps the story moving and the world fresh.
Jonathan Majors shines as one of Hollywood’s brightest emerging superstars. After a mere 19 Credits on his IMDb page, and appearing in his first feature film in 2017; Majors appears as the main Antagonist in a major Hollywood franchise for the second week in a row!
The week after appearing as making his cinematic debut as ‘Kang The Conqueror’ in the MCU’s Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, Majors plays a completely different style character who even walks differently.
Majors’ take on ‘Diamond’ Damian Anderson shines, despite being short changed in the screentime department. He plays Damian with quiet determination and humility in some scenes, and rageful focus and justice delayed determination in others. But, both of these performances feel completely natural and consistent with his character.
Damian’s not the villain of Creed III, but he is the antagonist — out to get what’s rightfully his, no matter who stands in his way. The Damian/Donnie relationship should’ve gotten more screen time to fully flush out the story between these two high achieving characters. Unfortunately, with a seeming two hour runtime limit, this relationship takes a backseat to Donnie and Amara’s father/daughter relationship.
As is, we get a widely expanded world for Donnie and Tessa Thompson’s ‘Bianca’, three GREAT fight scenes spaced evenly throughout the film, and an amazing Soundtrack that adds energy and culture throughout.
Great Production Design/Location Scouting and Cinematography (by Kramer Morgenthau) give Creed III an epic look and feel for its Los Angeles setting. And, an energetic Musical Score by Joseph Shirley bridges the gap between pop songs from the soundtrack, and call backs to Bill Conti’s iconic score from the Rocky movies. This is much harder than one might expect given the varied singers/recording artists contributing to the soundtrack, and the iconic nature of ‘Rocky’s Theme’.
All in all a solid Freshman effort for Michael B. Jordan, and a solid middle chapter for what feels like an eventual 5-Part movie series.
A satisfying, solid flick. Worth watching in theaters, but wait for a matinee or streaming to save the extra $$$.
Three and a Half Stars out of Five.