For ‘Creed’ star Michael B. Jordan, stepping behind the camera for his directorial debut in ‘Creed III’ follows in the very famous footsteps of the franchise’s original star — Sylvester Stallone. After the critical success of Rocky, which he wrote, Stallone took over from John G. Avildsen to direct Rocky II, which was a box office smash, cementing Stallone as an unlikely action writer. Let’s hope Jordan pulls off a similar run with “Creed III,” a solid first film with a knockout performance from Jonathan Majors.
There’s a meta element to Jordan’s movement behind the camera that mimics Adonis Creed’s journey in Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin’s script. Adonis, aka Donnie (Jordan), has hung up the gloves and taken on a promoter role, supporting the championship aspirations of Felix Chavez (played by pro boxer José Benavidez) and spending time with his family, wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent).
The domestic challenges—finding his purpose outside the ring, figuring out his relationship history with his adopted mother (Phylicia Rashad), and learning to express himself with his wife—are standard enough and not as compelling beyond of what the actors bring. in the role. Where “Creed III” really starts to come alive is the introduction of Jonathan Majors as a figure from Donnie’s dark and violent childhood.
Damian, aka Dame (Majors), was a big brother type to Donnie and a rising boxing star, but when a fight at a convenience store got out of hand, Donnie ran and Dame went to jail. He’s emerged now, 18 years later, hooded and squirrelly after his years behind bars, but still looking for his own shot at the belt. Donnie is reluctant to support him, but feels guilty that his friend had put his dream on hold while his was fulfilled beyond his wildest dreams.
“Creed III” makes good use of the inherent qualities of each of its leading men: There’s something rather sweet, innocent, and noble about Jordan’s persona, which is put to good use as Donnie struggles to do the right thing, while Majors always seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders. There’s something inherently sad about Majors’ countenance, and as Dame, he exudes a kind of hurt anger that makes him want to hurt someone, not “snap” with focus and control.
If “Creed III” tells us anything, it’s that Majors is Marlon Brando’s heir apparent. His angry, resentful Dame, a bruiser with a chip on his shoulder, is straight out of Brando’s Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront.” Majors fully embodies the character, from his south-central accent, clipped cadence and hunched attitude slowly unfolding as he grows more confident and powerful, thanks to his own machinations and Donnie’s guilt-ridden ability.
But while Dame is the far more compelling character, Donnie is our hero, and the film proceeds as such, with montage training duels and snow-white boxer shorts taking the symbolic place of a hero’s white cowboy hat. Coogler and Baylin’s script isn’t all that innovative with the sports movie formula, and unfortunately tends to rely on characters blurting out their internal monologues, rather than leaving it to subplots.
But Jordan’s steady direction elevates the material, keeping a strong hand on tone and emotional tenor. Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau (who also shot “Creed II,” directed by Steven Caple Jr.) brings fluid camera movements and an engaging use of practical lighting, imbuing the film with movement and texture. Jordan makes a big creative move during a climactic title fight, experimenting with a subjective fantasy lineup. It doesn’t quite work, but it’s nice to see him paint outside the lines with the risky maneuver.
But what Jordan does best as star, director and producer is deliver Majors’ gritty performance, establishing him as one of our brightest stars. Taking on a behind-the-scenes role is part of the ‘Rocky’ legacy, and Jordan takes the reins with ease, defending the Majors and heralding an exciting new chapter in his career beyond ‘Creed’.
Katie Walsh is a film critic for the Tribune News Service
Rated: PG-13, for intense sports action, violence and some strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Game: Launches March 3rd in general release