The latest in the "Rocky/Creed" franchise is entertaining, but uneven
It’s hard to believe but the Rocky franchise is nearly fifty years old and is still delivering films with the spin-off Creed movies. The latest finds star Michael B. Jordan step behind the camera for his directing debut and is also the first film in the franchise without Sylvester Stallone, due to rights disputes.
Creed III (2023) finds Adonis Creed (Jordan) recently retired after an incredibly successful boxing career. He runs an LA gym and enjoys a peaceful life with his music producing wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). However, when an old friend of Adonis’ past, Damian (Jonathan Majors), shows up at his doorstep, this peaceful retirement is threatened.
Jordan is bold to have his directing debut be a big studio feature, yet his daring doesn’t stop there. Jordan is not afraid of giving Creed III a distinct feel from the other films in the franchise. From the use of more witty camera angles, to playing around with moody lighting, and even bringing surrealism to certain fight sequences. This boldness can cut both ways, however, and Jordan’s ambition perhaps gets the better of him in other key aspects.
Creed III has the intriguing premise exploring a form survivor’s guilt, yet the film is never sure enough to commit itself to this character study. As such, a disjointedness settles in, where the timidity of truly diving into dark recesses is wonkily paired with a generic sports film. Jordan’s brave forays into stylistic choices masks some of this unevenness, but it also abandons crucial filmmaking aspects. For one, the performers feel abandoned of clear direction or curation. It’s hard enough to direct, let alone direct and act at the same time, but much of Jordan’s cast felt left to their devices tonally. As a result, interactions feel inorganic, with actors appearing to be very obviously acting. The editing is also wonky, with sloppy and jarring transitions between sequences and confusingly choppy work in fight scenes.
Thankfully, Creed III is anchored by Jonathan Majors, who is slowly taking over Hollywood. The talented actor is already copping festival fare (Magazine Dreams (2023)) and blockbusters (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) and this film). Somehow, Majors feels like a welcome discovery each time he graces the screen. He is one of the few performers in Creed III who understands how to balance the seriousness and comedy at the heart, and relishes his anti-her
o role. In a problematic way, Majors is so charismatic and convincing that I found myself intermittently rooting for him at instead our hero. Majors enlivens his every scene and spruces up the otherwise befuddled narrative.
As if by quota, you have your training montage and scenes of slow-motion sweaty bodies colliding. The final fight isn’t half bad, but is infinitely less gripping that the ones in the previous Creed films; this due to editing and stylistic choices that don’t quite gel. In the end, Creed III is another entertaining entry in this long-running boxing franchise, and while uneven, it showcases a promising and ambitious start for Jordan in the director’s chair.