Oddly-paced “Creed III” is the weakest of the franchise and Stallone was missed; REVIEW

Sylvester Stallone had a say in crafting Rocky Balboa’s character arc in the first “Creed” and co-wrote the screenplay for the sequel. Now comes “Creed III” to finish out the trilogy, and Stallone, both on screen and on the page, is missed sorely.

Michael B. Jordan understandably chose this picture for his directorial debut. While the film is worthwhile, generally, Jordan’s directorial choices make it manifest that he should have stayed in front of the camera.

With no other dramatic material to be mined from the life of Adonis Creed, screenwriters Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin drown the character in personal drama (a factor that prevented Sylvester Stallone from returning).  A medical issue with his mother (Phylicia Rashad), an regret from the past that returns to the fore to threaten Creed’s legacy.

An old wound is reopened when Damien “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) shows up after spending eighteen years in prison. A former friend and onetime boxing prodigy, the two have a shared history of a tragic incident that sent Dame to prison on a weapons-related charge.

Adonis made no effort to reach out to his fallen friend and Dame’s awkward presence comes at the worst time. Creed is retired, and has settled into a life of comfortable fatherhood while coaching World Boxing Association’s latest champion, Felix Chavez (José Benavidez).

The disparity between Adonis and Dame’s lives will lead them to their ultimate and inescapable fates.

What follows is a chance for the film to put Adonis Creed through the trials and hardships of life, reflecting on his past, and learning to be a great boxer and even greater man… but we have been here already. In the first two Creed films, the narrative arc was explored fully, even throwing the destinies of Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago into the mix.

For “Creed III”, there was no reason to go back to that now dry well. Adonis Creed’s tale is told. To round out the trilogy, it would have been smarter to take a cue from Stallone’s “Rocky III”. That film knew the audience didn’t want just another version of the same old drama, so the filmmakers went for fun. Rocky’s opponent, Clubber Lang, was big and over-the-top.

This newfound diversion from the street dramatics of the first two Rocky films gave the series a jolt of excitement. Jordan and his screenwriters should have learned from Stallone’s lesson.  Instead, the Creed trilogy ends with the darkest entry of the series, and it’s not effective dramatically.

Again, while this is the lesser “Creed” films, there are a few positives as part of what’s on offer. Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors. Without resorting to histrionics, the two use the silence during their uncomfortable conversations to convey the regret and anger that animates them. As Adonis’s wife Bianca, Tessa Thompson (now fully used as the Adrienne of the trilogy) does very well, Thompson’s performance is understated, and her scenes with their deaf daughter, Amara (Mika Davis-Kent) have a natural warmth.

Undervalued actor Wood Harris is solid reprising his role as Tony “Little Duke” Edwards, and steps up to take more screen time and speak the lines that would’ve been spoken by Balboa.

As good as these actors are, the film walks an uneven ground structurally, as it goes from seriousness to crowd pleasing action with next to no buildup. Scenes begin to build and are cut off much too quickly. As director, Jordan is in too much of a hurry to move on to the next moment.

The fight sequences: the payoff. When these scenes finally roll out, the audience jumped to their feet and cheers erupted through the auditorium in which I sat.

Jordan occasionally loses his grip on the boxing matches through an overuse of slow-motion and (in the final duel between Adonis and Dame) an incredibly out of place insertion of the fantastical.

Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau does well enough, but his camera stylings feel workman-like, as do Joseph Shirley’s score and especially Michael B. Jordan’s direction.

That said, along with some exciting training montages, the final, fateful, match eventually gives the audience what they came for. For a few moments, you will feel the rush of excitement one comes to expect from a Rocky/Creed picture.

“Creed III” doesn’t fully work but it isn’t a total washout. Ultimately, the film is an uneven pastiche of scenes from a few of the Rocky pictures and a rehash of the previous Creed films. Audiences won’t be disappointed going the distance with this one,
but they will take some punches along the way. And I’ll be damned if it wasn’t fun to watch.

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