By Lynn Venhaus
The formula is familiar and the plotline predictable in “Creed III,” but there is an authentic undercurrent between the heavyweight stars Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors playing childhood friends turned professional rivals.
Adonis (Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life, but when a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy resurfaces after a long prison sentence, Damian Anderson (Majors), the face-off is more than just a fight.
The third chapter sadly doesn’t feature Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, but returning castmates include Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ pop-star wife, Wood Harris as trainer “Little Duke,” Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago, and Phylicia Rashad as Mary-Anne Creed.
The mainstay of the Rocky-Creed films is the family legacy thread, and screenwriters Keenan Coogler (original director-writer Ryan’s brother) and Zach Baylin (“King Richard”) lean heavily into it. The face-off between former friends seems more contrived than typical. The melodrama is hyped up as Adonis’ future is on the line and “Dame” has nothing to lose.
However, Jordan, as first-time director, keeps the action fast paced and the obligatory training montage as well as fight scenes intense. Both lead actors are in commendable shape, and the boxing benefits from their commitment.
The subplot about hearing loss is an admirable point – and Jordan’s and Thompson’s sign language is flawless. That part about a family seemingly on top of the world dealing with struggles gives the film a heart-tugging element.
The original “Creed” in 2015 was rousing crowd-pleasing entertainment, lovingly crafted by director and co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler. The underdog boxing story had plenty of Easter eggs to the “Rocky” series.
If you don’t remember it, or the follow-up in 2018, you can still enjoy this film, but it does help to get up to speed about the back story. Last time, Adonis Creed, the son of the legendary heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, faced the son of his father’s boxing foe and killer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren in “Rocky IV”) in the sequel, with Donnie taking on Viktor in a story about not escaping your past and family is everything. Real Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu returns as Viktor in a small role in “III.”
That theme continues here, as a retired Adonis is grooming Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) to be the next champ. He’s pulled back into the ring through a series of unfortunate events. He’s living large, but potshots in his direction are taking an emotional and mental toll. Dame is eager to take his shot and has something to prove.
Looming large is the absence of Stallone, the heart and soul of the franchise since the Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser “Rocky” in 1976. He’s played Rocky eight times, and it’s unfortunate they had no place for him in round three, because his presence is needed. He is the anchor, and not only earned an Oscar nomination for the first “Creed,” but elevated the second one.
Nevertheless, the supporting cast is convincing in their roles. Thompson excels as Adonis’ wife Bianca, and Mila Davis-Kent is endearing as their smart, headstrong daughter Amara.
This doesn’t have the same impact as Coogler’s original, nor does it have the sentimentality. He didn’t direct the second one, as he was too busy with “Black Panther,” and here, he just supplies the story and produces.
Jordan not only is up for the physical challenge of playing Adonis, but also the emotional complexity, and with Majors at the top of his game, the conflict has some bite to it.
Majors, who was noteworthy in early work – “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “Da 5 Bloods,” and “The Harder They Fall,” with his acclaimed performance in last year’s “Devotion” and now as Kang the Conqueror in the Marvel Cinematic Universe making him one to watch, is impressive as Dame. He takes a one-note role and commands the screen.
The music score is a worthy addition from Joseph Shirley, and the soundtrack pulses with urgency.
The tech work is superb, with sharp cinematography by Kramer Morganthau, who worked on the second one, and slick editing by Jessica Bacesse and Tyler Nelson. Production designer Jahmin Assa has created quite a crib for the Creeds and contrasts the past with the present effectively.
Is there enough juice for another one? Will the audience keep coming back? Time will tell.
While it isn’t a knockout, “Creed III” packs enough of a punch for those seeking another chapter in this 47-year-old story and an abundance of contemporary action.
“Creed III” is a 2023 sports action-drama directed by Michael B. Jordan. It stars Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Mila Davis-Kent, and Phylicia Rashad. It is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language. Run time is 1 hour, 56 minutes. It opens in theaters on March 3. Lynn’s Grade: B-
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.