Michael B. Jordan in Creed III.

Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut, Creed III, jams all of the boxing-story beats from Rocky III and Rocky IV into an underwhelming film that feels rushed and underdeveloped.

Jordan has some nice touches as a director (especially during sequences in the ring) and always wows as an actor—but the story he’s telling feels like it should’ve been a six-part streaming-service TV show. That’s a problem afflicting a lot of movies these days.

In the early scenes of Creed III, there’s a rematch between Adonis Creed (Jordan) and Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), his opponent in the original film. After this fight, Adonis figures he has come full circle as a boxer and will retire, becoming a trainer/promoter. He’s become a flashy champion, doing clothing endorsements and adorning his rich house with giant pictures of himself, Rocky III-style. (As the internet has told you, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky is not in this movie—and is barely mentioned in the film.) Adonis is living a comfy life with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and their daughter, and it’s time to rest that battle-weary body.

Not so fast. This is a boxing movie in the Rocky-verse, after all.

Flashbacks show that Adonis had a buddy, Damian, when he was younger. The flashbacks slowly reveal a complicated history—and Damian (played by Jonathan Majors as an adult) shows up in the present day after nearly two decades in prison, looking to resume his once-promising boxing career. Adonis and Damian can rekindle their lost friendship, and Adonis can pull some strings to help his buddy rise to glory in the ring, right? Everybody is smiling!

Not so fast. This is a boxing movie in the Rocky-verse, after all.

Damian is a bitter and wants “payback,” and his rise to the top is reckless and fast—too fast for a two-hour movie. He’s sparring one moment, and an established champion next. The friendship goes out the window as Damian reveals his true, selfish intentions, forcing Adonis to deal with his past. It’s slick but silly—yet directed and presented in a way that is supposed to be taken seriously.

This all builds up to a “Killmonger vs. Kang the Conqueror” finale, a bout that arrives a little too conveniently. While Majors has some good scenes with Jordan, we’re shown very little about his character when he’s not onscreen with Adonis. One moment, he’s all shy and humble; the next, he’s a Rocky-style villain in the cartoon-character mold of Clubber Lang or Drago.

Yes, we get the flashbacks, but we don’t see any of his prison time, nor do we see much of Damian’s life after prison. One moment, he’s basically a pauper, and the next, he’s a millionaire with an entourage. Because Creed III attempts to establish Damian as something more than a cartoon character with those flashbacks, he deserves to be fleshed out more in the present. He winds up being surprisingly shallow, despite Majors’ strengths as a performer.

Creed III had everything it needed to survive in the Rocky-verse without Sylvester Stallone. Unfortunately, it makes the mistake of trying to be both a Rocky film and a deeper, more-nuanced Creed film. The two styles clash, and the result is unbalanced. This story and structure required at least another hour of development to give the Damian character his due.

There’s enough in Creed III to indicate that Jordan will direct some good movies if he remains behind the camera. Perhaps there is a director’s cut that will make the Creed III story meatier—and I’d be very happy to see that. There are too many good things in Creed III to call it a bad movie, including moments in the ring involving strategy that are among the best I’ve seen in a boxing movie.

Alas, it’s not a good movie, either. Perhaps some excised footage could make this a complete experience rather than what feels like a prolonged trailer. Come on, Netflix: Call Jordan, and make the Creed III mega-cut, six-part miniseries happen!

YouTube video

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *