Creed’s new challenger packs powerful punch in threequel


In this uneven but often powerful threequel, we see Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) reckoning with his past as this long-running franchise tries to find some firm footing for the future.

The Rocky movies had been on the ropes for a long time when the Creed series came along as a contemporary continuation, with a 2015 story that saw Rocky Balboa mentoring Adonis Creed, the son of his onetime rival and later good friend Apollo Creed. This third Creed outing is better than Creed II but not as good as the knockout original (which was directed by a pre-blockbuster Ryan Coogler and drew on the low-key emotional realism of his indie-film roots).

Jordan’s acting work continues to be solid. He’s also making his directorial debut here, with a script from Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin and Ryan Coogler, and that gets a split decision. Creed III delivers an intriguing emotional backstory with some current sociopolitical grit, but it keeps getting pummeled by a much more conventional and cliched sports movie.

Adonis, his wife Bianca (Tess Thompson) and their daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent, unfortunately written as way too cute) have moved from Philadelphia to L.A. Adonis is living the life of a retired heavyweight champion, running a boxing gym and training up-and-coming fighters. Bianca is producing gold records while dealing with progressive hearing loss. (Much of the dialogue in the family scenes is in American Sign Language).

Along with leaving behind Philly, the story also parts ways with Rocky. In the first two films, Stallone and his soulful, sad-eyed, mumble-mouthed presence made a poignant bridge to the original franchise. But he doesn’t make an appearance here, leaving the Creed series to find its own way.

And mostly it does. Creed II dragged in Drago and his son for a good-vs.-bad legacy battle that barely registered with this new generation. Creed III has a much more intriguing antagonist, with Adonis facing off against Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a childhood friend and one-time Golden Gloves champ who’s back in the neighbourhood after a long prison stretch.

Majors (Lovecraft Country) is mesmerizing to watch in this star-making role. Smiling but menacing, he makes Damian’s motivations hard to read and keeps everyone around him — and the audience — off-balance. Majors’ nuanced performance is what helps Creed III punch above its weight.

Along with this fresh new character, we get some familiar tropes. Women sorrowfully tell their men, “If that’s what you gotta do.” Trainers remind their fighters, “Pain is temporary.”

And of course, there’s a training montage, because what’s a boxing movie without a training montage? This one involves roadwork, sparring, pulling a small plane (!) and punching a tree (!!).

The fight scenes are more stylized than we saw in the first two outings, with Jordan alternating between juddery, speeded-up action and super-slow-motion that reveals faces and bodies distorted by force. When it works, Jordan’s approach is visceral and effective — as in one pivotal sequence that plays as a kind of hallucination — but sometimes, this fancy stylistic footwork is just distracting.

All in all, Creed III suggests this franchise has enough mojo to go another round. “Everyone loves an underdog story,” Adonis tells us, and the underdog here, Majors’ phenomenally complex fighter, deserves a rematch.

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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.