This review of Creed III contains all the spoilers, folks. Get into it after the jump.
There are a number of beautiful shots in Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut, Creed III, the latest in a damn-near 50-year franchise rebooted with still-unmatched flair and soul in 2015’s Creed. But it’s the shot of Jordan and Jonathan Majors, separated by a wall after having yet another conversation where more is left unsaid, that really puts the film into focus. Jordan – in fine form again in perhaps his greatest role – lingers a half second longer. We sense that Adonis wants to go back and have a real conversation with Damian, but he doesn’t.
Unlike a lot of films featuring two Black men whose lives have diverged, Creed III isn’t really trying to tell us that Adonis could have been Damian or that Damian could have been Adonis. No, it’s deeper than that. The film is telling us that these men are not whole without one another. Creed III then is, first and foremost, about brotherhood.
If we think about these three films in total, we know a few things about Adonis. He has had a chip on his shoulder and anger issues. He was lazer-focused on living up to his father’s legacy, thinking that would heal his sense of abandonment. But it is his relationship with Tessa Thompson’s Bianca that does that and allows him to be vulnerable.
But, crucially, what this film reminds us is that we have never seen Adonis with any male friends.
And in Creed III, Jordan tells us why, and beautifully suggests that that absence was profound in a way Adonis did not realize until Damian reappears. Yes, Adonis has achieved everything he’s dreamed of. He’s sitting on top of the world as a former heavyweight champion, a boxing promoter, and owner of a training gym. But in the moment he recognizes Damian leaning on his car, we know immediately that all of that is a facade.
Jordan’s astute in this moment. His entire posture shifts. We see regret, shame, confusion, and apprehension – at once and in succession – on his face. (Jordan is a real master of this kind of emotional processing in a single moment). He is no longer the Adonis we are shown up until that point.
And Damian knows this and picks at him in the most heartbreakingly passive aggressive way throughout the film until it boils over. Damian is envious yes, but Majors plays him as a devastated man unable to articulate and fully process himself how deeply Adonis hurt him. (This is also why the great Spence Moore II doesn’t play Damian as a young hothead. Jordan understands that present-day Damian was made in that moment with the gun and in the years behind bars. He was not always the man he is now).
Damian’s mere presence in his life re-engages all of Adonis’ old habits, threatening to have Adonis regress to the manchild we meet at the start of Creed. There’s that great scene when he comes home after seeing Damian for the first time. Mary-Anne (the peerless Phylicia Rashad) is braiding Amara’s (deaf child actress, Mila Davis-Kent, adorable and effective) hair and Bianca is trying to convince Mary-Anne to move in with them. The scene works on multiple levels. It shows us that this is a family that fluidly handles a deaf child in their life, that Mary-Anne has been sick, that Adonis and Bianca are worried about Mary-Anne, and, crucially for the main story, that Adonis is unwilling to share how he’s feeling.
He and Bianca are playful prior to this moment, but after Damian enters Adonis regresses. He becomes non-communicative, embraces Amara’s emerging aggression over Bianca’s objections, and constantly refuses to talk about why Damian has thrown him off-balance.
The rest of the film then is not necessarily about getting back to the successful, rich Adonis, It is about Adonis making peace with the guilt he didn’t know he was carrying. Then he can be the man he thinks he is.
This is what I think reviews are missing. As a filmgoer, I am not necessarily rooting for Adonis to win the fight; I’m rooting for these brothers to reconcile. It’s why the film ends with that beautiful final conversation between Adonis and Damian and the Creed family in the ring, rather than with the knockout. I know Adonis can’t be who he needs to be if they don’t. And that’s powerful, in universe, but perhaps low-stakes for what people might be expecting in a film of this kind. But, dammit, Creed III makes me care.
Which is why, powerful as the film is, I wish the script did more with the backstory to make the emotion land even harder. I think the film is missing perhaps two scenes. It was a mistake for us to learn about Leon as an abuser through dialogue. The moment of Adonis’ confession to Bianca would have been more powerful if the audience knew what he knows. To hide the ball forced the film to tell, instead of show.
Perhaps they wanted us to be disoriented the way Adonis is in the film. But that prevents us from fully grappling with just how traumatic Adonis’ life before Mary-Anne truly was and why Mary Anne would feel the need to hide the letters. We needed to see him in that group home and to see the bond that was forged between young Damian and Adonis (Thaddeus J. Mixson of the great Hulu drama, Reasonable Doubt) as a result. And we needed at least one more scene of where Damian is present-day. Where does he live? What is that like?
In a film that clocks in under two hours, there was room for a bit more character building. As is, the film relies too heavily on Jordan and Majors. They rise to the occasion, but the film needs a little bit more.
As a director, Michael B. Jordan shows real flair. His staging of the fights is inspired and he paced the film expertly. It is also clear that he had something to say with Creed III. It’s dazzlingly imperfect, but very good nonetheless.
I don’t think we need another Creed film, but I bet we’ll get it. And that’s too bad. It would be powerful to wrap up Adonis’ story with the re-establishment of a brotherhood he had been missing all along. That suggests to be a whole person, the man one needs to be for his family, a brother needs his brothers.