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A middle-of-the-pack Rocky film

Creed III is imperfect but entertaining


Jonathan Majors in a scene from Creed III Eli Ade/MGM via Associated Press

A middle-of-the-pack Rocky film
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Michael B. Jordan is back in the ring to take another swing at the Rocky franchise with Creed III, this time both starring and directing. But after 47 years and eight movies, Sylvester Stallone has bowed out, so don’t expect Rocky Balboa in the corner.

Creed III begins with former champion Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Jordan) retired from boxing and living in Los Angeles—the move away from Philadelphia keeps viewers from wondering where Stallone’s Rocky went. Donnie now spends his time developing the next generation of young boxing talent and supporting his wife (Tessa Thompson) in her music career. But Donnie’s confidence in the future shatters when he’s confronted by a ghost from his past. His childhood friend Damian (Jonathan Majors) has just finished an 18-year prison term, and Damian wants a shot at fulfilling his own dreams of boxing glory.

Donnie suffers from guilt over his complicity in Damian’s incarceration, and he feels obligated to help Damian. But their strained friendship takes a toll on both Donnie’s business and his family. Following the tried-and-true Rocky formula, they’ll have to settle their problems in the ring.

Stallone claims he doesn’t like the franchise’s direction. He said he wanted to keep the tone sentimental and didn’t want the hero to explore dark places. But the storyline between Donnie and Damian is the best part of the movie, with scenes possessing an affecting verisimilitude. They speak cryptically, trying to suss out where their relationship stands and where each wants to take it.

Majors makes Damian both sympathetic and menacing, using facial expressions to show us who Damian is and what he wants. Majors has perfected his ability to depict restrained rage from thwarted dreams.

Though the movie revolves around the relationship between Donnie and Damian, Donnie’s family life takes its share of punches too, but most of these subplots feel contrived. Donnie and his wife’s interactions verge on melodrama, and the scenes involving his daughter and his mother feel tacked on. They’re supposed to add an emotional punch, but they end up as distractions.

The story follows the pattern—a problem, a training montage, and a championship boxing match—and as for Rocky-verse films, I would put this one in the middle of the pack. The movie fails to justify why Donnie needs to fight Damian at all. But the championship bout solved the problem of how to wrap up the movie and set up another sequel.

Creed III isn’t perfect, but it’s an entertaining movie with visceral fight scenes you won’t find in a superhero fantasy. Despite Stallone’s concerns, this movie has a certain sentimentality. It’s an unapologetically masculine film about imperfect men trying to figure out how to live in a world that’s passing them by. It acknowledges being a man can be complicated, but it thankfully doesn’t try to “problematize” masculinity itself.


Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.

@collingarbarino

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