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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Creed 3: Review

After an illustrious boxing career, Adonis Creed is enjoying a tranquil retirement with his family when Damian - an old friend with a complicated past - suddenly reappears in his life. The pair's fractured relationship leads to Creed facing his biggest challenge yet in Creed 3.

Fans of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky franchise received a welcomed surprise with the release of Creed in 2015. The spin-off film, which focuses on the son of Rocky's most storied opponent in the ring, Apollo Creed, imbued new life into the storied traditions of the Rocky brand. Creed 2 was also a winning effort, reintegrating another Rocky rival, Ivan Drago, as Adonis continued his maturation inside and outside the ring. Star Michael B. Jordan served as the heart and soul of both features, delivering a commanding and affecting performance that showcased Creed's journey from humble beginnings to boxing superstardom.

This may seem sacrilegious to some, but I find the Creed films to be a noticeable improvement over the Rocky franchise. Rocky boasts a timeless charm and is an expressive byproduct of its 70s/80s era. That said, most of the sequels pail drastically to the 1976 original in their favoring of cloying melodrama and corny contrivances. In comparison, both Creed and Creed 2 showcased a more hard-hitting, humanistic approach that strikes refreshingly genuine sentiments from the sports movie formula.

With Creed 3, Jordan steps into the director chair as he defines a greater sense of authorship over his franchise. The results are a rousing knockout - a compelling, nuanced and artistically audacious feature that may just be the best the Rocky or Creed offering to date.

The initial news of Jordan taking over the directorial role was a welcomed development. While directors Ryan Coogler and Steven Caple Jr. excelled with Creed and Creed 2, embracing the dual actor-director title for Jordan harkens back to the franchise's storied roots (the original Rocky and several of its sequels were written and directed by Stallone). Managing both responsibilities places an extra burden on an artist's shoulders, yet Jordan consistently showcases himself as a seasoned pro with his directorial debut.

Jordan and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau define an arresting visual voice in their collaboration. Drawing from anime influences, the duo devise expressive aesthetics that work brilliantly to heighten the insular and external tensions on display. So many sports films approach their subject with a level of stagnation, often blankly capturing the action without any stylistic infusions. Even Creed and Creed 2 fell into this trap at times, framing the combative boxing scenes like a TV broadcast airing on ESPN.

Jordan and Morgenthau diverge from this standard-issue path with brilliant results. There is a level of cinematic dynamism on display that consistently elevates the material. The boxing scenes in Creed 3 are especially intoxicating, spotlighting Creed and Damian as grand gladiators confronting their inner turmoils through the sport they know and love. The roaring crash of emphatic punches and flurrying camera movements loudly ring throughout as these dramatic clashes elicit genuine dramatic steaks.

Outside of the boxing ring, Creed 3 is just as impactful. The introduction of Damian, Creed's childhood friend who returns home after a two-decade prison sentence, helps evoke powerful thematic sentiments. Both characters and their drastically opposing paths collide as legacy and trauma follow behind like a daunting foe shadowboxing them in the mirror. Creed is burdened by overwhelming hardships from his youth and the all-consuming unknown of his post-boxing career, while Damian carries the world's weight on his shoulder as he ferociously pursues the illustrious heights that suddenly slipped from his grasp when sentenced to prison. Both dynamics are intelligently framed through the prism of fragile masculinity and self-worth - two intimate facets usually overlooked in most machismo sports films. What boxing offers Adonis and Damian as a platform for temporary solace, they both eventually realize that their scariest demons lie within themselves.

I appreciate Jordan and screenwriters Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin's patience with these dynamics. The personal steaks and aching vulnerabilities throughout Creed 3 transcend far beyond the typically maudlin theatrics that most sports films conjure. Additionally, the decision to remove Rocky from the story after appearing in the previous two entries was well-warranted. His presence loomed large throughout Creed and Creed 2, but his absence here allows Adonis, and reflexively Jordan himself, to define their own stamp on the franchise's narrative.

The material's stirring strengths help Creed 3 highlight a pair of showstopping performances. Jordan and co-star Jonathan Majors are compelling forces that draw instant gravitas onscreen. Jordan continues to portray Adonis Creed with undeniable presence, offering a radiant movie star performance that oozes charisma and moving sentiments. After being wasted in a villain role in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Majors is a magnetic force as Damian. He creates a rich, profoundly lived-in character who bypasses the one-note cliches that plague most adversarially figures. Whenever Jordan and Majors share the screen as distant friends turned foes, they provide breathtaking and emotionally charged cinema akin to a true Shakespearean epic. Supporting players Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad are also quite good as supportive pillars in Creed's family.

Simply put, Creed 3 is the best film of the year so far and one of the most accomplished sports movies in some time. It's rare for a blockbuster to be crafted with this much heart and craft, with the film hopefully serving as the start of an exciting new career path for Jordan.

Creed 3 is now playing in theaters.

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