The Winner That Became a Winner.
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the Heavyweight Champion of the World. He retires. Someone else wins the title. So he UN-retires to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World again, winning a fight that he never had to enter. Where’s the journey? The plot of CREED III seems… inconsequential.
Of course, the screenwriters (Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin) will tell us Adonis’s journey is the psychological battering he takes at the hands of his childhood friend, now a nemesis boxer, entering the ring again to take a real battering to cleanse his guilt, to defeat his demons, to reconcile with his past… But it’s really an excuse to get the Climactic Boxing Match onto the screen.
Don’t get me wrong, CREED III is a powerful story, about two brotherly teens chasing the boxing dream, Adonis “Donny” Creed and Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors, QUANTUMANIA); involved in a crime where Donny ran, and Dame did time; after An 18-year sentence, Dame is out, still grasping at the boxing dream despite his age, and back in Donny’s life…
It’s a compelling story in itself, separating these two childhood friends by time and class; there’s a nature versus nurture element, and a loss of innocence: now Adonis sees Damian as a criminal element clouding his elitist family life, and Damian sees Adonis as disloyal for running, and becoming rich and famous instead of him, the better boxer. Sure, Adonis can give Dame a leg up by allowing him to workout at his gym, but there is absolutely no reason why this former Wurl Champeen and this ex-con need to meet in the ring.
At one point, we see Adonis walking into an arena with a suit on, with his family, about to spectate a boxing match between his protégé Felix (real life welterweight Jose Benavidez) and Kang the Conqueror. And I wasn’t complaining at all, the movie chugging along organically with a coupla B-plots, Jordan’s acting prowess more than satiating our movie jones, without the need to put him in boxing shorts. But —
— this being a boxing movie an’ all, and the two principal characters being boxers an’ such, there had to come a moment when the two of them step into the ring as opponents… It’s just that the reason for the final boxing match is… dumb, to say the least.
CREED III is directed by Michael B. Jordan himself, displaying a creative maturity far beyond his years. Maybe the fact he’s played Adonis twice before gives him the ease in directing and starring and “knowing” the character. Retired, Adonis shepherds young boxers through his gym, with help from ever-present trainer Wood Harris. Family life is idyllic, with wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson, THOR: RAGNAROK) and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent, an excellent young actress, not annoying, not precocious, not smarter than her parents. Revealed in CREED II that Amara was a deaf baby; an intriguing aspect is the inclusion of much sign language between the young girl and her parents, Bianca having lost most of her hearing as well.)
Phylicia Rashad is Donny’s mother, with some poignant moments, but ultimately, to be the person who dies in this boxing film so that people will take it seriously.
Sly does not appear. After launching the series on the back of the ROCKY brand, he did imply in the previous film, CREED II, that he was passing the torch to the younger generation of head banger, but somehow in all the press for this movie, there seems to be a consensus that he was ignored out of this script. Which is horseshit. He’s a producer on the film. (And whether or not he returns as Balboa in CREED IV is reported in the clickbaity style of him having disagreements with the CREED producers on whether they will write him in or not. Fuck, I hate social media!)
Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) even makes an appearance, son of Ivan Drago, nemesis no more, just a sparring partner, who is slated to combat Felix for the Championship Dance Belt. He is debilitated before the fight, steps down, and Dame steps into the match at the last minute. When it is discovered Drago’s injury was a setup by Dame to get into the ring, all Dame’s goodwill with Adonis evaporates, and his character does a one-eighty, turning into a mocking, disrespectful, insincere frenemy. But here’s the thing: he WINS the Dance Belt. This is not The Wrestling. Boxing is real. Dame proved he had the walk to backup the talk! So whether he tricked Adonis to get the gig is irrelevant – he actually knocks out the guy backed by the World Champion! And becomes the World Champion!
And the writers just cannot find a compelling reason to get Dame and Donny into the ring to savagely assault one another for no reason. Because Adonis retired as Champ. He doesn’t have to prove anything anymore. But if he accepts a taunt by Dame to fight – he’s got EVERYTHING to lose. But why is Dame taunting Donny on the talk-show circuit? Yes, WE know the boys’ background, but to the boxing world at large, isn’t it dumb for a current World Champion to taunt a retired World Champion? How irrelevant do you want to be? Answer: yes.
Jonathan Majors does such a nuanced job of portraying the empathetic anti-hero, that even when he turns into a cartoon villain, we feel for him – the sadness of enduring jail, only to exit into a world that has gotten away from him, and trying to fit in, with an old friend who has also moved on spiritually, psychologically, financially – we read all this tragedy and bitterness in his expressive face.
Adonis tells his wife he must defeat Dame because “Dame ain’t gonna stop!” Stop what exactly? Talk show interviews? “There’s only one way to bring him down!” Is there? You can’t sue him or put a gag order on him?
So the best way to stop verbal bullying… is to BEAT UP THE BULLY.
IS it? (Now, *I* personally believe in a little blood-spilling, but that’s not Society’s bleating solution in films of this ilk.) CREED II was very concerned with the reasons for fighting (and it completely lost itself up its own arse with its contradictions), and here, the simple “reason” seems to be “to shut him up.” Hmm, is that the right reason for entering a boxing ring to cauliflower your ear and bruise your liver?
But bruise livers they do, with lightning strikes and slamming body-blows, each swing a haymaker, none of this futzing around guarding their faces and trying to find openings. Jonathan Majors has been trained with a unique ferocious style, and we can see the physical difference between his beast technique and Jordan’s streamlined style. The boxing choreography is so savage, it makes the previous ROCKY catalogue look like ladies taking judo classes to pretend they can fight off a man twice their size.
This last (unnecessary) match is suddenly surreal: the crowd disappears, as Dame and Donny see each other as their young selves – after all, this is between the two boys – and are hit with unmanageable bro feelings. They reconcile after the fight. It’s a very touching scene, but it leaves us with the message: Beating up your bully IS right. (?)
Well, it stopped Dame in his tracks all right. If he had just kept his mouth shut, he could have defended his Dance Belt for years by legally hitting people in the ring. Instead, he had to taunt a guy that should have meant nothing to him after 18 years, except maybe a leg-up into the game. For all its excellent production, acting and characters, CREED III leaves us with a weird feeling that nothing of any consequence just transpired.
There’s the final hero shot at the ring, backlit, with inspiring music (Jordan’s directorial prowess on display), and then, with the ring ropes in the foreground, Adonis Creed walks away from camera, fading into the darkness to go do more inconsequential things…