by Rob DiCristino
Ryan Coogler’s Creed shouldn’t really work, should it? Sure, a sequel to Rocky — even one in which he takes on a protégé — isn’t exactly a cinematic aberration, but Coogler’s 2015 soft reboot did more than just throw fresh paint on an old formula; it redefined the series’ signature underdog narrative, following a fighter raised in privilege rather than one bleeding on the edge of society. We should resent Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) for his arrogance and presumption — and, to be fair, we often do — but Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington so thoroughly endear us to his relentless pursuit of pride and purpose that we can’t help but cheer when Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) embraces the orphan as a son of his own. Creed II (2018) built on this theme, pitting Donnie against the son of his father’s killer (Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago) to explore the complex dynamics of legacy and amp up the stakes for his own impending fatherhood. Donnie earns peace, in the end, escaping his father’s shadow and the pain that once defined him.
It feels at first like standard-issue Rocky fare — series completists will notice thematic nods to Parts II-IV, in particular — but there’s such a fierce modernity to the music, style, and editing rhythms of the Creed brand that it never feels repetitive. First-time director Michael B. Jordan knows exactly which character buttons to press, emphasizing Donnie’s hold on the boxing throne while letting more than a little insecurity through the cracks, that same performative toughness that made both the actor and his character so compelling in the first film. Donnie and Bianca have developed into a powerful team, with Thompson — though frightfully underused here — vocalizing her Concerned Wife concerns with a grace and temperance that gives her partner the space to take his journey without sacrificing her own standards for dignity and respect. Amara’s hearing loss has also given the family a warm, private shorthand that comes in handy during moments of strife and makes their victories all the more intimate and satisfying.Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, giving Majors ample opportunity to develop a ferocious foil to Jordan’s more straightlaced protagonist. Dame has enough charm to win over an apprehensive Bianca but not so much that his eventual heel-turn makes it feel as though he was playing a trick on us. Dame is a good man, at heart, someone who articulates his pain through anger for lack of any other method. Eighteen years of prison — and seething bitterness over Donnie’s success — have left him hardened, but they haven’t rendered him irredeemable. That’s what gives the final fight a unique edge in the franchise pantheon: We don’t want Donnie to knock Dame out as much as we want them both to admit that they shouldn’t be fighting in the first place. We want them to help each other heal.
Creed III hits theaters on March 3rd.