I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t address the elephant in the room first. For the first time in the nearly 50-year history of this franchise, Sylvester Stallone was not featured in the film as Rocky Balboa. We could delve into the reasons behind why he elected not to take part in this installment, but that would be a review in itself and take away from this film. I mention it off the bat, so we can all process it and view the film with clarity. Long story short, I will say that his absence was noticed, and he was missed. I think his absence is notable due to the lack of an explanation as to his absence. I suppose the film being set in Los Angeles instead of Rocky’s native Philadelphia is meant to serve as a workaround, but still, I’d hope for some kind of explanation or at least a casual mentioning of the character. The lack thereof is what really drew attention to it. To be fair, the case can be made that that the previous film provided a pretty good conclusion for the Rocky chapters of the franchise. His finally making the trip to meet his grandchild was good catharsis for the character. What this means for the future of the franchise now I will not speculate; only to say that there is nothing saying that we’ve seen the last of Rocky. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can concentrate on fairly assessing Creed III.
Of significance, this film signifies Michael B. Jordan, our titular character, stepping behind the camera to make his directorial debut. But who better to take the helm than the man who brought the character to life. This in my opinion was a solid debut for Jordan and showcased his abilities both in front of the camera and behind it. Returning to back Jordan up on the screen are Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, and Wood Harris. However, if there was one person who outshone this cast of Creed veterans, it was the man who was making a debut of his own via his introduction into the Rocky franchise. A man who has been making quite the name for himself. Creed III introduced us to Adonis’ rival, Damian “Dame” Anderson, known as Mr. Jonathan Majors.
This appears to be Majors’ time to shine. He essentially exploded on the scene with his breakout performance in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, which he followed up with compelling outings in Lovecraft Country, The Harder They Fall, and most notably his formal induction in Loki, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Quantumania as Kang, the MCU’s next big bad. For Creed III, he serves as a ghost from our titular character’s past in the form of a former friend turned rival. In this film, as he’s done with his other performances, Majors delivers an incredibly nuanced performance. Despite being the in the role of the antagonist, it is hard not to sympathize with his character, as we see how his life was derailed and what role Adonis played in that downfall. What is remarkable is how much Majors is able to portray with the simplest of gestures. With a simple look, such as when he and Adonis meet in the diner, we feel the weight of his turmoil as he sits in front of the man leading that life that he dreamed of for himself. He plays it reserved, but the struggle shows in his eyes when he is offered what he perceives as charity. However, my favorite Majors scene had to be the montage in his room, as he tries to deal with frustrations over his situation. Majors is truly multifaceted as he makes it easy for us to transition from pitying him to hating him, as slides comfortably into the role of the villain. He turns from humble to brash as easy as flipping a switch. Lastly, I’d once again be remiss if I didn’t mention the peak physical shape that Majors got into for the role. It was reminiscent of Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw, Tom Hardy in Warrior, or more on topic, Michael B. Jordan in the first Creed film and its follow-ups, including this one. This ability is just another example of Majors’ commitment to his craft.
This film also gives the best look into the backstory of Adonis Creed, which has only been hinted at in the other films. As we remember, Adonis is the son of former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed via an extramarital affair and spent time in a Los Angeles youth detention center before being taken in by Apollo’s widow, Mary Anne (Rashad). This time we learn more about that time in his life, to include his connection to Damian Anderson (Majors) and what transpired between the two. This was the first time that I felt like I got the full picture as to who Adonis Creed is as a character. Additionally, what I appreciate is that this film, like the two before it, provides much-needed closure for the character. In the first film, it was about living up to his family legacy. The second was about stepping out of his father’s shadow, and this one was about creating his own legacy. A confrontation with the past proved to be the best method for achieving this closure. During the development stage, the idea that Deontay Wilder could play the son of Clubber Lang was pitched. While I would love to see the Bronze Bomber grace the silver screen, I am glad that this idea was not followed through. It would have felt like a rehash of the second film. Adonis had just overcome his father’s legacy; he didn’t need to overcome Rocky’s too. I prefer this story; it gave a more personal connection to Adonis and fully addressed all that rage that we’d been watching the character carrying since the first film.
There were some aspects that were less enjoyable. For one, I felt somewhat shortchanged when it comes to the final fight. This film has the shortest runtime of the Creed trilogy by at least fifteen minutes. I understand not wanting to have a bunch of unnecessary fluff slowing down the story, but I would have liked to have seen an extended final fight sequence. It felt as if we transitioned into the final round in the blink of an eye. There was also some added symbolism that I can only imagine was part of Jordan’s efforts to establish his own voice as a director. He is quoted as citing animes such as Naruto and Dragon Ball Z as heavy influences for the film. These influences are most notable in the final fight sequence. They weren’t bad, and I am all for him establishing his own creative vision; however, it did feel a bit cartoonish and out of sync with the rest of the film.
A contribution that Jordan made that I found excellent is the introduction of what I like to call Ring IQ. In the other films, overcoming adversity and the will to fight (aka a fighter’s heart) are recuring themes. And while that is still present in this iteration, an addition is the theme of fighting smart, displayed through intercut, slightly slowed down sequences, where a fighter observes his opponent’s fight pattern and timing. This addition showed that boxing isn’t just about strength and being able to take a punch; it introduced the importance of boxing smart and counterpunching, which have become more commonplace in today’s boxing. This helps modernize the film and gave it its own uniqueness.
Creed III is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an impressive average bitrate of 75-80 mbps. The bitrate is quite constant and doesn’t fluctuate much at all. What impresses me the most about this film is how much of it is color- or tone- neutral. There’s not a ton of the color correction which dominates films today. That means things like flesh tones are perfectly reference. There is some tweaking when appropriate, but this film delivers supremely natural colors. The HDR takes that and ups the ante with brightly defined but still natural colors. Black levels are deep and inky with wonderful shadow definition. Details during the fights take you closer than any fight broadcast you’ve ever seen. The contrast is also quite impressive. The intro sections to the fights deliver wonderful pinpoints of light in the stark blackness of a darkened arena, and a green and blue smoke entrance of a fighter is very impressive.
The Atmos track defaults to a complimentary 7.1 mix. Dialog is front and center, while the surrounds complement the important beats of the film. The ring is where the subs add just a bit of accent to the booming crowds and powerful punches. There’s a really quiet surround moment when Creed and Dame are alone in the ring with no announcers or crowd noises. It’s a fantasy element I don’t like in the story, but it’s an impressive audio design. The crowds do also work into the surrounds quite nicely when present.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film.
Deleted Scenes: (4:23) There are three with a play-all option.
Michael B. Jordan – In The Ring/Behind The Camera: (10:04) Jordan talks about getting himself prepared to become the director, and the cast and crew tell us why he was so good in both jobs. It’s a Michael B. Jordan lovefest, to be sure.
Donnie And Dame – There Is No Enemy Like The Past: (9:20) Lots of information about the development of the Dame character. Each actor gives some insight into the characters and their relationship.
Once again, I credit Jordan with a solid debut in the director’s chair, and I gave my double praise for still giving a consistent portrayal despite the added duties. This installment fits comfortably in line with its predecessors, and in all likelihood serves as the conclusion for the Creed chapter of the franchise. I won’t close the door completely on the possibility of another film, but as it stands, I’m more than a little sure that this may be the last time we see Jordan lace up the gloves. And if this is how it ends, everyone involved can hold their head high and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani