The Opening “Ding!”
Creed III is not what you think. In what we now have to call the Rocky Cinematic Universe, it’s easy to just relegate any of the nine movies to just a sports movie but it brings way more to the table. As Michael B. Jordan’s first foray into directing, there’s a lot on the line for his reputation. Creed III does not rest on the laurels of being a franchise with a strong legacy, quite the opposite – it strikes out on its own. It’s bold, brave, blerdy, and Black AF.
Tale of the Tape
At the end of Creed II, the birth of his daughter forces Adonis to make peace with the weight of his father’s legacy after taking out Ivan Drago’s son Viktor and retaining the heavyweight championship. For clarity, he beat the brakes off the son of the boxer who killed his father in the ring in the 80s. Adonis is still the champ and holds his own as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the game. Creed III picks up three years after the events of the second movie and opens with Adonis’ last fight before retirement against “Pretty” Ricky Conlan, the big fight from the first Creed movie.
The Creed III Review
Creed III is a thoroughly surprising movie. There is an attention to detail and symbolism that quite frankly has no business being as well done as it was. This is the theme for the whole movie, really. Creed III‘s success hinges almost entirely on performances and short of a few lines of writing, it all clicks together quite well. At the intersection of acting, set design, costume design, direction, an immaculate soundtrack, and original music, Creed III hits on all cylinders.
MBJ’s Directorial Debut & Black Movie Freedom
Let’s keep it a hundred, Michael B Jordan’s acting range is limited. It just is. Homie has been a different variation of Wallace from The Wire for the larger part of his career. While this might seem like a slight, it really is a testament to the fact that MBJ has spent his career being able to focus on just being a Black person in film and television. This is now his specialty and his brand – to bring the fullness of his Black experience to every role. Knowing that his acting range is what it is, it should make directing himself difficult, but MBJ steps into his third stab at Adonis Creed with the maturity of a veteran actor. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it’s still impressive.
At the very least, this movie feels like part of a moment of freedom in Black creation. Enough people of color have achieved access and mainstream success that all audiences can relate to a movie scripted, produced, directed, and acted by people of color. This is in the vein of Nia DaCosta’s Candyman and her upcoming The Marvels, Jordan Peele’s catalog, or even Akila Cooper’s M3gan, among many others). Whether this moment is here to stay is unknown, but it’s here. Now.
Creed III is held together by performance, the entire movie truly hinges on the physicality, presence, and emoting of the cast. Y’all. They did that. Nobody fell short and I’m going to do my best to get everyone their flowers.
Michael B. Jordan reprises Adonis Creed for the third time and manages to give the character as much depth as he had in the first movie. Of course, the homie brought the physique (and his personal trainer) to the set like he does every time. He ups the ante by giving us the Adonis Creed that is exploring fatherhood, responsibility, and reconciling masculinity. MBJ delivers something subtle but important and rarely seen in cinema, a trilogy following the arc of a Black man from his boyhood through adulthood. We’ve watched Adonis fight and show his strength in that way, but here Jordan has to convey care and compromise and show strength in all the ways that defy stereotypical masculinity.
Tessa Thompson reprises as the successful musician turned producer and mother Bianca. Even though she plays a more minor role in the plot, she shines as a catalyst in the further development of Adonis’ character. If you think less screen time equates to less impact, you’d be dead wrong. Thompson has the chops to make every moment onscreen count, and she does. She brings a quiet intensity and grabs every scene she’s in.
Phylicia Rashad is acting her ass off in Creed III. She returns as Adonis’ adoptive mother Mary-Anne and really lets you know she’s been doing this for decades. Rashad has played many a mother, and she lends her veteran acting experience to the nuance of this third reprisal of Mary-Anne Johnson. The evolution from an angry, stern mother to a supportive, wisened grandmother will not be lost on audiences. **[SPOILER]** I have never been more stirred by a death scene, and it rests entirely on the studied and lived experience of Phylicia Rashad. It’s so easy to play up a death, and she chose to meet it with a dignity that I have never seen onscreen.
This will be the second time in a month that Jonathan Majors is receiving flowers from me for a performance. Majors enters the Creed franchise as protagonist “Diamond” Damian Anderson and brings it. Dame is a villain through and through, and it hits different. Majors does so much through his physicality in any role, so his being jacked for this character is mostly for show.
The mentality and methodology of Dame is his most terrifying trait, there has never been a more thoroughly dominating force in the Rocky cinematic universe. Ivan Drago looked to break the body, and Damian Anderson looks to break the spirit of his opponents. When Adonis and Dame meet up on the beach, the way Majors flips the switch on the whole character at the drop of a dime gave me goosebumps. Might as well name him Bane Anderson. He broke people down the same way using the language of scientific violence. He definitely hit Adonis with the ‘victory has defeated you!’ We’re looking at a strong contender for ‘villain of the year’ and more importantly the kind of acting that makes everyone else in the cast step it up to meet. Especially the way his signature intensity forces both Adonis and Michael B. Jordan to evolve.
Creed III is Anime Built
Let it be known this movie is built on the bones of anime greatness. From the costumes to the rhythm of action in the fights to the spirit and development of the characters, anime was in the building from the beginning! As the director, Michael B. Jordan cracked the code on commercial appeal. Anime is so mainstream now that anyone can follow the narrative beats and progressions.
First off, Adonis opens the movie mid-fight in a pair of red leather boxing trunks that were directly inspired by Kaneda’s iconic jacket from the seminal 80s anime and manga Akira. We’re talking about the first few minutes of the movie here, so straight out the gate the intention is present and doesn’t let up. Costume designer Lizz Wolf leaned all the way into MBJ’s love of anime.
Then there’s the development of Dame’s character. His whole fighting style is a one-for-one homage to the boxing anime Hajime No Ippo. Majors mentioned that MBJ had him watch some anime to get ready for the film, what we didn’t know is how vital the references were going to be. Dame’s whole fighting style is based on Ryo Mashiba’s “Hitman Style” from Hajime No Ippo, which was inspired by real-life boxing icon Tommy “Hitman” Hearns. Even Ryo’s story of having run-ins with the law and fighting his way out of poverty is called back in Dame’s story. It’s too clean to be a coincidence.
Of course, that last fight?! It might as well have been Naruto and Sasuke in the waterfall rocking Everlast gloves. There are several moments that reference some seriously iconic anime moments. At one point, the whole facade of the arena melts away, even the music is taken away. Dame and Adonis go blow for blow and hit the double punch at the same time, which many people might recognize from Dragon Ball Z’s Goku versus Vegeta battle. But the deeper cut, for the initiated (and we are initiated, aren’t we reader?) is that it comes from Ashita No Joe, the 1960s boxing manga/anime that would go on to inspire Megalobox.
If you like anime, this movie has something for you. If you’re into boxing, there’s something for you. If you loved the Rocky movies, there’s something for you. Creed III is way better than it has any business being. The performances carry this movie, and the caliber of those performances makes it stand out from every other entry in the Rocky Cinematic Universe. Bolstered by Ryan and Keenan Coogler’s screenwriting alongside Ludwig Goransson and Dreamville’s music, Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut goes the distance. Creed III knows what it is and offers a masterful telling of the kind of story that can only be told in a world where a ‘nobody’ can become a champion. You can check out Creed III in theatres worldwide.