The Stew Review: Creed III kicks off promising directing career for star Michael B. Jordan
TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Creed III is an impressive and rousing boxing movie in its own right, as well as being a cracking good directorial debut for Michael B. Jordan.
Though this is technically the third Rocky spin-off film, it’s the first without a single appearance by The Italian Stallion himself. In fact, I’m not sure Rocky Balboa’s name is even mentioned once in passing. This is entirely a story about Adonis Creed (Jordan) and his fight, both literally and metaphorically, to break free of the past and stand firm amid his own legacy and accomplishments. As such, while the warmth and wisdom of Rocky is missed, his absence is at least thematically fitting.
Jordan has been one of my favorite young working actors since I first saw him as Wallace in HBO’s The Wire many, many moons ago. He was terrific then and he’s only gotten better since. He’s ably made the Creed films his own as an actor despite dancing in the shadow of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, so it makes sense too that he’d want to prove he can go the distance completely on his own both in front of the camera and behind it.
This is mirrored in Adonis Creed’s story. Having now officially retired as the reigning heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Adonis is living a life of stature and comfort. His biggest concerns are his daughter’s behavior at school and training a protégé’. All of that is upended when a ghost from his past resurfaces for the first time in nearly 20 years: Dame Anderson (Jonathan Majors). The two were like brothers and Dame had the talent and momentum to become a heavyweight champ. Until, that is, he took the fall for Adonis and spent most of his life behind bars. Resentful of Adonis’ success, Dame aims to take what he sees as rightfully his own.
Like the previous Creed movies and the Rocky series as a whole, Creed III isn’t a boxing movie so much as it’s a deeply felt human drama that just so happens to have characters who are boxers. Adonis and Dame could be swordsmen or race car drivers and the thematic crux of the film would remain firmly in place. As such, this is in some ways the most personal movie in the Rocky-verse since, arguably, Rocky IV.
Although it’s also an interesting inversion of the original Rocky’s setup. It asks: What if the first Rocky movie was from Apollo Creed’s perspective and what if Rocky, instead of being his humble self, was bitter and angry and out for blood? As a director, Jordan digs into all of this with aplomb. It’s all very basic stuff and Jordan can often make subtext glaringly obvious with certain shot choices, but it works. The movie isn’t subtle, but it’s also not trying to be.
It helps that Jordan and Majors are both exceptional talents and inhabit their characters with a sincerity that helps ground the broad nature of the proceedings. Majors in particular inhabits Dame with an intensity and ferocity that would make Rocky III’s Clubber Lang wary, while also managing to make him almost wholly sympathetic. There’s a point mid-film where Dame lets his mask drop, revealing his true intentions. Until now, it was easy to feel almost entirely on Dame’s side. But even with such a blatant heel turn, Majors makes it feel like an inevitable development while never betraying the sympathy he’d previously built. It’s stunning work and positions Dame as one of the truly great villains of the Rocky-verse.
What I find most interesting about Creed III, though, is the window it provides not only into Jordan’s future as a director, but possibly the generation of filmmakers coming up alongside him. At age 36, Jordan has grown up right alongside the skyrocketing popularity of Japanese anime. For him, shows like Gundam Wing and Naruto are as influential as the likes of Spider-Man and Batman to past generations. And while Creed III never gets as over-the-top as any given episode of, say, Dragon Ball Z, the way Jordan approaches character archetypes, motivations, and even fight choreography is clearly drawn directly from the well of Japanese animation. Anime stories are often those of brothers-in-arms forced to fight against the other. Anime action scenes often have a very specific dynamic energy and flow. Both of these are qualities that Jordan brings to the forefront here.
This isn’t to say Michael B. Jordan is the first American filmmaker to be openly influenced by anime, of course. The Wachowskis were quite vocal about The Matrix being influenced by the likes of Ghost in the Shell, for instance. But it is a fascinating look into his influences and it lends Creed III a tone, particularly in the final fight, that helps it stand out from the rest of its forerunners. But it’s also, I think, a glimpse at how visual styles for Western-made movies in general could further evolve. Plenty of live action anime adaptations have been made in Japan. But the style has only become more widespread and popular in the West over the last couple decades and I’m willing to bet Creed III is just the beginning of how we’ll see its overt influence in a new generation of American filmmaking.
Where Creed III largely falters, though, is in its lack of a strong emotional core. The damaged brotherhood that Adonis and Dame navigate is felt, but it never takes root enough to feel like it matters that Adonis might lose his friend all over again. The gap in their relationship is too vast to make it feel like enough is at stake. Exacerbating this is the fact that not much is otherwise at stake. Adonis is already retired and with titles and belts won. He’s got plenty of money and a wonderful family. With none of those things truly at stake if he just walks away from a challenge by Dame, it lessens the impact of emotional and physical battle that goes down.
Still, Creed III manages to rise above these shortcomings and cements itself as a terrific boxing movie in its own right and Johnson proves himself more than capable behind the camera so much that I’ll be first in line when he decides to take another swing.
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