Dan Webster reviews "Creed III"
We’ve all had friends who tend to tell the same stories over and over. Like the guy who never fails to mention the time he tried to date the head cheerleader in his high school. As Bruce Springsteen sings, “Glory days, well they'll pass you by, Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye.”
What’s intriguing is when the stories become ever more convoluted, varying in time and place and even, sometimes, in the specifics of what actually happened. Did the date every actually occur, and what happened next? Those are the kinds of questions that seeing Michael B. Jordan’s movie “Creed III” brings to mind. How interesting it is to see a story evolve over four decades.
“Creed III,” of course, is part of the “Rocky” franchise, the ninth in the series that dates back to the 1976 Oscar-winning film that was conceived of, written by and starred Sylvester Stallone. After running the Rocky Balboa plotline into and through the mat, Stallone was approached by Ryan Coogler, who had been a big fan of the early “Rocky” movies. Coogler, it turns out, had been working on a screenplay about Adonis Creed, the son whom Rocky’s first opponent, Apollo Creed, had fathered through an extramarital affair.
Coogler’s original “Creed,” which he directed two years after the premiere of his own first film, 2013’s “Fruitvale Station,” starred Jordan. And it follows much the same plotline of the original “Rocky” – with a few obvious differences: Adonis is Black, he is raised by his late father’s wife, he fights as a light-heavyweight … and so on. “Creed II,” which followed in 2018, was directed by Steven Caple Jr., as Coogler was busy directing “Black Panther,” and it features the character that Rocky faced in “Rocky IV,” the Russian Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren) who managed his son Viktor.
And now we have “Creed III,” written by Keenan Coogler (Ryan Coogler’s brother) and Zach Baylin, starring and directed by Jordan in his first turn behind the camera. Like all the others in the series, the “Rocky” template lives on – but, again, with obvious differences.
Adonis is now retired, living the good life as the ex-champ in Los Angeles with his wife Bianca (played, again, by Tessa Thompson) and their young daughter Amara (played by the deaf actress Mila Davis-Kent). In between running his gym, mentoring the current heavyweight champion Felix “El Guerrero Chavez (played by real-life welterweight boxer José Benavidez Jr.) and supporting his family, Adonis – like many early retirees – seems restless.
That all changes when he is approached by Damian Anderson (played by Jonathan Majors), whose appearance throws Adonis back to a time in his life he’s tried hard to suppress. Damian is the guy who, when a younger Adonis was pummeling a man who had previously abused him, stood up for his friend and, for his efforts, received an 18-year prison sentence.
Adonis feels responsible. And so, he invites Damian to work out in his gym, even if he refuses to do the larger favor that Damian asks of him, which is to set up to fight between him and Chavez. A once-promising fighter himself, Damian feels he has been cheated out of his career – and he guilt-trips Adonis in an attempt to get him to set things right. And when Adonis won’t, well … let’s just say this is where the plot to “Creed III” doesn’t just flirt with reality, it elopes with the purest of fantasies – the result of which is the most predictable of “Rocky” plot points, the ultimate ring-side showdown.
For someone who is a first-time director, Jordan acquits himself surprisingly well. “Creed III” moves along, even in its quieter moments when Adonis is either trying to support Bianca in her music career – which now involves production instead of performance – or commune through sign language with daughter Amara. Or even when, always reluctant to face up to the pain of his past, Adonis finds it hard to share any of his emotions, even with his ailing stepmother (played, again, by Phylicia Rashad).
Yet it’s the fight scenes that any “Rocky” film, even the spinoffs, are famous for. And “Creed III” – for all its predictability – doesn’t disappoint, both because of how well Jordan’s camera captures the action and because of how well both Jordan and the always charismatic Majors look their parts.
Their performances are good enough to far outlast the wink in any young movie fan's eye.
For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.
Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for Spokane7.com.