‘Creed 3’ Review: Duke It Out by Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors
The “Creed” star takes over directing duties with high stakes, a great cast, brutal fights, and too many franchise outings going on for it to really be a hit.
Halfway through his first pro fight – for a title no less – “Diamond” Dame Anderson (Jonathan Majors) uses the break between rounds to get rid of a tooth knocked out by his fierce competitor Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez). their bruising battle. If that sounds painful, it looks even worse, but the former Golden Gloves champion simply spits it out, gets back in the ring, and wins big. It won’t deter you. Nothing will stop you. What could be scarier than that in a competitor?
In Michael B. Jordan’s “Creed III,” the franchise star adds “director” to his resume with an ambitious but crowded debut. And while the basic idea that fuels the film’s central battle is intriguing enough — who would want to go up against Jonathan Majors, let alone a Jonathan Majors driven by righteous anger? – Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin’s overheated screenplay, filled with other diversions and potential disasters, prevents “Creed III” from hitting all the punches. Overall, though, it’s a winner: Jordan clearly has directorial chops (it’s the bigger swings that provide the most energy), and he and Majors make a formidable on-screen duo.
But there’s a lot of heavy lifting to get there, starting with an exposition-filled opening that foreshadows more troves of information to come. Opening early in Los Angeles, we see young Adonis (Thaddeus James Mixson Jr.) on his way out to join his older friend Dame (Spence Moore II) in a local Golden Gloves match, where Dame emerges victorious. A dashing young man with a big plan: to become the heavyweight champion of the world and more. Fast forward to the end of Adonis’ heavyweight career, capped off by a big fight in South Africa (which he wins, of course), and then again fast forward to the present day, where Adonis and his family are enjoying life after retirement.
Wondering what happened to Dame? When he shows up outside Adonis’ massive gym, where he and his old trainer Duke (Wood Harris) are training the next generation of fighters, the champion has every right to be awe-inspiring. Dame has spent the last 18 years in prison – we soon find out why – without Adonis saying a word, and now that she’s out, she wants to get back to her big dream. And while Adonis, who learned the hard way in the previous two films about the value of helping others, offers to help, it seems like a crazy dream that can’t come true.
But he underestimates Dame.
It’s a fascinating concept for a film – old pals pitted against each other in a battle that goes beyond the belt – but other concerns soon pile up: Adonis’s young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) wants to learn to box, her mother Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad ) is unwell, and his wife Bianca’s (Tessa Thompson) pain at not being able to perform on stage is getting harder to ignore. While each subplot adds to the tension that eventually forces Adonis to boil over (and into more serious action), they all detract from the main event: Adonis vs. Dame, in and out of the ring.
But introducing Dame as a major part of Adonis’ life requires that kind of padding at least at one point, and the franchise’s recycling still struggles: Suddenly, we all have to learn about Adonis’ time in the group home as he did. it found its way to boxing, the crime Dame committed that landed her in prison, Mary-Anne’s seemingly decades-long worries about Dame, the cracks in her relationship with Bianca, and concerns about Amara’s academic life. There’s a lot to process and it’s delivered too quickly and too messily to stick.
Take it back to Adonis and Dame. That’s where he hits it. Their philosophies are different – of course the script keeps hammering home these differences throughout the film, even after we’ve learned them well – and it affects their approach to everything. Adonis values control. Dame is all about brute force. Both Jordan and Majors offer energy, charisma and presence — two actors who are exciting to watch — but too often in “Creed III” they’re forced to dance around each other, wordlessly, for far too long sequences.
It’s only in the last half hour of the film, which (unsurprisingly) sets up the pair to enter the ring, that they – and this film – really come to life. That’s when both Jordan and Majors are allowed to channel their anger, sadness, and confusion (and yes, awesome training montages, a heart-stopping finale, and enough punch to make the audience feel them), and when “Creed III” really starts to cook. It’s the best testament to Jordan’s directorial skills (as you imagine the final showdown will likely divide audiences, but this is clearly a man with a vision) and the genius that pits Jordan against Majors. Get them in the ring sooner. Keep them there. This is the only battle that matters. That’s what hits me.
MGM will release “Creed III” in theaters on Friday, March 3.
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