Does Michael B. Jordan run the ring in Creed III?

Director: Michael B. Jordan Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson Running Time: 116 minutes

More than ever sequels have the air of contractual obligation about them for their performers, but the same can’t be said of a series like Creed. The role of Adonis Creed has always given Michael B. Jordan the chance to flex his star power; being less tied to strict release schedules than the shared universe blockbusters means a Creed movie can come out when its ready, telling the story of an athlete and not an Übermensch means that the stories stay grounded in personal, human themes – Adonis’ pride or passion, honour or hubris, are better things to see at stake than magic gems and space boxes. Jordan beefs up to box, but always gets to show his strengths as an emotional performer too, and now rising star Jonathan Majors gets in on that action for Creed III. Like Stallone before him, Jordan gets to push himself further through this passion franchise; taking a seat in the director’s corner for the first time.

Following Ryan Coogler is a big swing for Jordan. Directing the previous two Creed films, Coogler gave them an exhilarating visual flair; perfect for the series heightened emotions and a great way to give non boxing fans that big fight feel. Coogler’s fights, though shot with variety, felt like they were trying to heighten the physical feel of boxing. Part of the fun of Creed III is seeing how Jordan goes a different way – his bouts are shown to heighten the emotion. Jordan has spoken enthusiastically and often about how his love for anime influenced his approach to directing, and his exaggerated movements and hyper-stylised fight scenes give Creed III enough extra to make it worthwhile seeing a third entry. The green screened stadiums and mind palace shenanigans could be off-putting, but their distancing effect works when Creed’s head isn’t meant to be in the game. The over-the-top presentation is well built to also, like all the best boxing movies it’s an emotional release valve for the preceding melodrama, its just a different way of showing it than fans might be used to. There’s no Rocky this time around, but that gives the lead characters more time to shine, as Creed steps up higher to be his own man, it’s enjoyable enough spending time with him that Stallone’s absence doesn’t really register.

The storytelling works also, because the presentation might be heightened, but the acting performances remain measured. Creed is still a consistent character across these movies, a more sensitive soul with a hot streak, he’s shown here trying to reconcile that with getting older, raising his daughter and moving on when his career seems to be behind him. Tessa Thompson remains a trooper for her strenuous efforts to elevate Creed’s wife Bianca, from sympathetic shoulder to a character with her own engaging storyline. Bianca’s increasing hearing loss and the impact it has on her creative ambitions again are on ongoing consistency, and Thompson’s strong performance ensures that Bianca’s motivations are in conversation with Donnie’s, not just meant to prop his up.

The absolute highlight though is Jonathan Majors, a serious performer whose turn as Damian ‘Diamond Dame Anderson’, Creed’s childhood friend turned chip-on-shoulder rival, hits hard, fast and fantastic. Majors has been one to watch since the sensational 2019 film The Last Black Man in San Francisco and here he gives Dame the perfect blend of Anime Rival Ham and Character Actor Subtlety. Dame takes his time showing his true colours to his former friend – fresh out of prison, the childhood friend of Donnie plays on his guilt, arguing for an underdog opportunity even though he’s an amateur, even older than the retired lead character.

Majors is charming, driven, demanding and he fully embraces villain status when his ruse is revealed. It’s a delightfully charismatic performance that bounces brilliantly off the more measured Jordan, and just like in real life, it builds up the excitement to see them both box – the ‘these two just don’t like each other’ work is as old as the sport itself and the underdog villain is a great spin on Rocky’s roots.

A good old-fashioned blockbuster dust-up, Creed III is what you would like more modern sequels to be, an exciting, rewarding watch that doesn’t demand too much of its audience. The series continues to show it can stick and move.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)
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