Michael B. Jordan makes his directing debut in “Creed III,” his third acting outing in the never-ending “Rocky” saga, the first without founding father Sylvester Stallone on screen.
And the movie he gives us is quiet, almost stately, a real actor’s picture and something of a redemption for Jonathan Majors, so good in “Devotion,” so disengaged as the heavy in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
Majors finds the vulnerable, resentful core of his character, an ex-con who did time thanks to young Adonis Creed’s Biggest Mistake. Damien “Dame” Anderson gets out of jail and eases his way into the orbit of the now-retired champ before hitting him with the “Try spending half your life in a cell…watching somebody else live your life” guilt trip turned threat.
Jordan takes a solid swing at showing us something fresh in the fight sequences, boxers whose focus and intensity literally leaves them as the only two men in the rink and the darkened stadium where they’re fighting, a sell-out crowd blocked utterly out of their minds and erased from the visuals.
He also takes pains to show us something we’ve seen after real life prize-fights — even if rarely — two pugilists recognizing that they’re the only two people in the world who know what they just went through, and the bond that creates.
But that story. Ugh. “Recycled” does the word a disservice. This is a humorless, dry retread of the lesser, later “Rocky” movies, a molehill of a tale for our boxing titans to climb.
It’s a movie about being at the top, rich, fat and happy. But whatever laughs or eyerolls Rocky Balboa was able to generate about sudden affluence, whatever guts he could summon up to battle a Clubber Lang (Mister T, a loose parallel to Majors’ Damien Anderson) — pride or principal or revenge now that he no longer has the desperation of a nobody getting a title shot — it’s just not here.
The script, like Adonis Creed in the story, has good intentions but no fire and no heart.
Adonis a Ralph Lauren billboard model and a guy who drives to work in his Rolls Royce, running his own stable of fighters from his marquee gym when we meet him. Dame comes back into his life, a figure from flashbacks of their big brother/kid brother relationship past. Creed takes him on and makes him a sparring partner for his current champ.
But a humble, grateful Dame starts acting out, his punches too pointed, his swings too dirty for mere sparring. “My clock is ticking” he says. “Too old” or not, the former Golden Glove winner wants his shot 18 years after he went to prison.
Adonis tells his Mama (Phylicia Rashad), singer-turned-producer wife (Tessa Thompson) and his trainer Little Duke (Wood Harris) that “I can make it right.” But he’s not seeing what they see.
“He’s telling you who he is,” Duke counsels. “BELIEVE him!”
You know how these pictures work. Events align and people conspire to put these two men who used to be “like brothers” into the ring together for a grudge match, where broken noses, broken ribs, broken hands and concussions are the possible payoff.
Jordan sets up the over-the-top spectacle of a championship and delivers an impressive fight or two.
But rarely have the stakes felt so low in one of these movies, seldom have the plot contrivances felt so contrived, with our first-time director rubbing the edge off the picture in an effort to step away from the “two Black men beating each other’s brains out” symbolism here.
He softens the movie without stripping the violence, and it goes adrift, characters groping about in a story that doesn’t have a real purpose or reason to exist. .
And if the Creeds insist on Rolls Roycing their deaf pre-tween daughter (Mila Davis-Kent) to ringside to watch this brutal beating her dad takes, you have to wonder if the better fight might be the one with Child Protective Services.
Rating: PG-13 (Violence|Some Strong Language|Intense Sports Action).
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris and Florian Munteanu.
Credits: Directed by Michael B. Jordan, scripted by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin. An MGM/UA release.
Running time: 1:56
You can expect this critic not to like this movie or much of anything actually. But it’s been a long time since I was in a theater where the whole audience applauded at the end. Creed 3 is EVERYTHING! The directing draws you into the story and makes you Feel what the characters are feeling. Yes, some parts are deep, but damn it was good!
You might try getting out more, for a start.
Retired military. Been everywhere. You? Aim high!
Career media, been everywhere. Multiple college degrees. Thousand movies a year. Published in almost every newspaper in North America at one time or another. You should spend your retirement working on that “taste” thing that you understandably had no time to master during your service.