Creed III (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): Back in the ring with his past

“Creed III” is a solid sequel to be admired for several good reasons. While it does not go further than what has been established by not only its two predecessors but also many other boxing drama films including, yes, “Rocky” (1976), the movie is fairly satisfying in terms of story and characters, and it is also firmly held together by the undeniably electrifying presence of the two very talented actors at its center.

After the prologue scene set in LA, 2002, the movie promptly moves onto what will be the last boxing match for the exceptional professional career of Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan), which was incidentally started with his little training time with Rocky Balboa in “Creed” (2015). After successfully defending his heavyweight champion title for the last time, Creed comes to retire for spending more time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their dear little daughter, and he also comfortably slips into the role of mentor for those young boxers training in his famous gym.

While going through another usual quiet day of his retirement period, Creed is approached by someone from his old past. That figure in question is Damian “Dame” Johnson (Jonathan Majors), and, as already shown to us during the prologue scene, he and Creed were once quite close to each other before a very unpleasant incident occurred at one night. Because of that incident, Damian became imprisoned for no less than 18 years, and Creed feels guilty about that because he was partially responsible for that incident.

Despite many years of imprisonment, Damian, who was a promising young boxer before he got incarcerated, wants to resume his boxing career. Although Creed is understandably reluctant at first, he has Damian work as the new sparring partner for a young prominent boxer he has mentored for years, and Damian seems to appreciate that, though Creed’s head coach Tony “Little Duke” Evers (Wood Harris) regards Damian with reasonable watchfulness.

Of course, it does not take much time for Damian to show how angry and resentful he has been about what happened between him and Creed at that time. When Creed later lets Damian have his first professional boxing match, Damian surprises everyone as mercilessly punching his supposedly indomitable opponent before getting his big victory, and Creed belatedly comes to realize that Damian did not approach to him just for some help. He is surely determined to settle an old score between them by any means necessary, and, yes, only Creed can stop him right now.

What follows next is your average training montage scene, but this conventional moment is fueled by what is being at stake between Creed and Damian, who is depicted with more nuances and details compared to those cartoonish opponents of Balboa in many of the forgettable sequels following “Rocky”. As preparing himself a lot for the upcoming big match, Creed also struggles a lot with his dark past represented by his spiteful opponent, and that consequently leads to them considerable friction between him and Bianca as well as his foster mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who turns out to have something she has hidden from him for years.

In the end, everything culminates to the expected climactic moment between Creed and Damian, and the movie does not disappoint us at all as vividly capturing every punch wielded by them in the ring. At one point, the movie unexpectedly goes for a restrained approach for emphasizing how much both of Creed and Damian are focused on punching each other to the end, and that further boosts the dramatic effects of the finale. Yes, it is predictable to say the least, but it comes with some real poignancy at least.

Michael B. Jordan, who also directed the film in addition to co-producing it, shows admirable commitment as he did in the two previous films, and he also demonstrates enough competence as the director. Besides deftly handling several boxing match scenes in the film, he also pays enough attention to storytelling and characterization, and that allows several main cast members around him to have each own moment to shine. While Tessa Thompson does a lot more than filling her seemingly functional role, Wood Harris and Phylicia Rashad effortlessly embody their respective substantial supporting roles, and young performer Mila Davis-Kent often makes us smile as her character shows some pluck just like when her father was young.

In case of Jonathan Majors, who has steadily impressed me since his memorable supporting turn in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (2019), he is inarguably the biggest reason to watch the film besides Jordan’s equally dedicated physical acting. Looking much more intense and committed compared to whatever he did in recent Marvel Cinematic Universe flick “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (2023), Majors ably galvanizes his several key scenes with Jordan in the film, and that makes me have more expectation on his advancing acting career. If his next film of this year, “Magazine Dreams” (2023), is as impressive as I heard from people who saw it at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, he will probably be mentioned much more around the end of this year.

On the whole, “Creed III” has enough energy and spirit to compensate for its very familiar story formula, and it is surely the nice finishing chapter for what was so powerfully begun from “Creed”. Along with its two predecessors, the movie proudly occupies their own spot besides its senior franchise, and that is certainly an achievement, you know.

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