So I’ll be up front about it: all I need in order to say that Creed III “works” is for it to have some training montages and an absolutely killer final fight sequence. That’s what we go to these movies for anyway. Sports movies aren’t ever about the technical aspects of the sports that they feature, as they are about a filmic portrayal of the underlying themes and battles that the characters are having. And if we can get swept up in those last bits, then it feels like the movie has done its job.
And this isn’t to say that Creed III doesn’t work hard. With Michael B. Jordan stepping in as director, we can feel a real shift. And we can sense that Jordan, taking on this new level of creativity, has some real ambitions. You can see he is trying to establish a voice, trying to be tasteful and sharp. To his credit, he meets expectations and even gets some surprisingly good work in here.
But, well, you know I’ve been packing a hook and I’ve been throwing only polite jabs so far in this review. So here goes.
Where Jordan’s work as a director shows both ambition and drive, the writing in this film fails him. It’s passable for the most part. But in the same way that boxing is a sport of rhythm, when lines are out of step and out of time, it doesn’t just falter, it falls flat. It’s clunky, obvious, lacking in elegance, lacking in control.
And these flaws are not limited to individual lines, but to the way that the movie progresses as a whole.
We begin the film with a flashback of Donny Creed and Damian Anderson (whose grown-up version is played by Jonathan Majors). It’s established that, through shared trauma and failings in the system, the two boys have forged a sense of brotherhood that has helped them to survive and even dream bigger than their circumstances. However, their paths diverge when Damian is put in prison and Donny manages to get to live out his life.
Now, 18 years later, Damian is fresh out of jail and wants to get back into the ring. Before going to prison he was a better boxer than Donny, and he thinks he deserves a shot.
When you take a look at this set-up, you see that there are so many ways that this story could go. There are many interesting themes to be explored. Damian comes out of 18 years of incarceration. What has this done to him? How has this changed or built up his character?
And on the other end of it, Donny, seeing the brother that he pretty much forgot about, now should feel many things. Guilt? Regret? A feeling that he owes the man something more than a handout?
These are complicated themes, or at least they should be. Their friendship was built around boxing. Essentially, boxing as a violent means to get away from the violent circumstances in which they were raised. But where one uses boxing to attain the highest heights in the world, the other finds that his use of violence has deprived him of the best years of his life. And that’s just a start.
But the film flinches; it doesn’t explore this question of the systemic factors that make one man go down one path and a similar down a totally different path. Instead, it becomes a mano-a-mano battle for respect.
Good thing that the guy facing down Michael B. Jordan is Jonathan Majors. Majors is quickly becoming a scene- and film-stealer in the big Hollywood releases of 2023. Not only is he physically menacing, but he can portray such a wide range, from subtle vulnerability to barely contained rage. And when he is onscreen, even when what he’s doing doesn’t make sense story-wise, or even when the lines aren’t good, he is able to elevate the material and make it something to watch and pick apart.
At risk of going into spoiler territory (and if you want no details revealed, skip this paragraph) I’ll give an example that can be inferred from the trailer. When Damian first shows up, he acts like he’s just asking for a little help from Donny, just a chance to get back in the ring. But then as the story progresses, we get into some very weird territory with the dialogue, with Damian saying things like he is going to take Donny’s life because it should have been his. The implications, and the menage of this, especially with Donny’s family being in play, are quite frightening. And the movie makes you think that this might go into some Cape Fear-level stuff. It doesn’t, but the fact that it feels like it could is a weakness of the writing.
So apart from the bad lines and things like that, we get some interesting ideas that don’t really go anywhere. Donny and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) have a daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), who is deaf and is the target of bullying in school. This raises questions of how a parent should deal with the possibilities of violence with their child. But then it drops this issue. Again, this is just one of many storylines and ideas that could have been explored better had the script been up to snuff.
But at least the action scenes made up for it. For all the head scratching I might have been doing with the writing, I was all in with the fight choreography. And at some points, the move felt like it was being absurd and totally embracing it.
There’s still an undeniable fun in watching training and fights. The kind of poetic violence that a film like this can deliver is, when done well, always worth a watch.
If you come to watch the heavyweight acting battle between Jordan and Majors, and then stay to enjoy the great fight choreography, then you’ll have an enjoyable two hours. This doesn’t have the artistic heights of the original Creed or Rocky, but it does manage to be a very good contender in the franchise. – Rappler.com
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