When Ryan Coogler spun off/rebooted the Rocky franchise in 2015 with Creed, few people expected the incredible film we got. Rocky – already SIX movies deep – had been dormant for nearly a decade. And Coogler had only released one feature film, Fruitvale Station, prior to Creed. Star Michael B. Jordan was certainly a known actor, with runs on iconic tv series like The Wire and Friday Night Lights in his youth. But with only a couple of misguided attempts (Fant4stic and That Awkward Moment) at movie stardom under his belt prior to his role as Adonis Creed, it was a shock how great he was in Creed. Fast forward to 2023 and Ryan Coogler has gone on to become an Oscar-nominated director while Michael B. Jordan is one of the hottest names in Hollywood, now taking his own swing at directing with Creed 3. And what a swing it is.
Creed 3 Review: Strength through Control
Typically when a long-time actor stars in their own directorial debut, as Michael B. Jordan did with Creed 3, they choose a standalone project that lets them dive into their own wildest impulses. Whatever those may be. Sometimes that gets you Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store, sometimes it gets you Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born (one of my favorite movies of all time, for which he is still owed an Oscar). But Michael B. Jordan’s decision for Creed 3 to be his directorial debut is an interesting choice that invites outsized scrutiny compared to most debuts. First, he’s following in the footsteps of his long-time collaborator Ryan Coogler. Second, the Rocky franchise is beloved, and both Creed and Creed 2 were major critical/commercial triumphs in their own right. So there were a lot of ways Creed 3 could have gone wrong. But Michael B. Jordan shows an impressive level of restraint that you wouldn’t expect.
Creed 3 is deliberate and unhurried in its pacing and storytelling. Those adjectives are mostly a glass-half full euphemism for a movie that a detractor would simply call “slow”. But hear me out. Creed 3 is completely unafraid of letting its characters sit in a silent moment for longer than you expect. In fact, the movie relies on that.
One place this really stood out to me was Adonis and Bianca’s (Tessa Thompson) scenes with their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Amara was born deaf in Creed 2. In Creed 3, she’s about 10 years old and her parents communicate with her in American Sign Language (ASL). As Nahlah Abdur-Rahman pointed out in her Madame Noir article, Michael B. Jordan often doesn’t speak at all when signing with his fictional daughter. “We’re met with scenes in near-complete silence, as Adonis’ daughter commands the moment and the eyes of the viewer. The youngest Creed…is not forced to speak to abide by typical norms of communication, the audience is supposed to meet her where she is at.” Showing that level of restraint and the trust in the actors/audience to connect in silence is something I was pleasantly surprised to see in Jordan’s directorial debut.
Let It Build
Another area where the deliberate and unhurried nature of the film shines through is in the introduction and buildup of Jonathan Majors‘s character Dame Anderson. If you’ve read my latest review, you know Majors has the capability to dominate the screen with a commanding presence and drop a BAR on his adversaries at any time. And he often does that in Creed 3. But, more importantly, Majors and Jordan work through their silence, through the things that go unspoken, to deliver a true thematic weight to the movie.
Majors’s Anderson is a childhood friend of Creed’s who spent 18 years in jail while Adonis built his career and family. After he gets out and tracks Adonis down, they have conversations that feel authentically tense and restrained for two Black men who have had to survive on their masculinity. Throughout Creed 3, Jordan gives Majors the room to be both the cocky asshole villain and the broken, lonely man afraid to ask for help. Overcoming the toxic masculinity of suppressed emotions and fighting that little voice men hear in the back of our heads that tells us speaking about our emotions is, at best, useless and, at worst, weak is a major theme of Creed 3. You can tell that both Jordan and Majors have lived that. And Jordan’s directing chops let their characters live in it as well.
Don’t let the preceding paragraphs of this review mislead you into thinking that Creed 3 is all a bunch of soft-spoken shit about getting in touch with your emotions. That’s part of it, obviously. But Creed 3 is still a Rocky movie and Micahel B. Jordan knows when it’s time to throw the haymakers. The boxing matches and sparring sessions all go HARD. The action is never hard to follow but the camera cuts, visual effects, and slow mo keep the action constant and enthralling. The final fight between Jordan and Majors is especially thrilling for a reason I won’t spoil.
In addition, Creed 3‘s soundtrack, whether it was a young Dame and Adonis rolling through the streets of LA listening to The Watcher by Dr Dre or Dame walking out to Nipsey Hussle tracks for his fights, had me JAMMING in the theater. Head nodding and all. The training montage, you know it’s not a Rocky movie without a bad ass training montage, is my favorite of the Creed trilogy and made me embarassed to not workout. Apparently J. Cole and his Dreamville record label had a hand in executive producing the soundtrack, and that really worked for me. But this movie and the soundtrack are Black as hell, so white Rocky fans, your mileage may vary. But I had an amazing time!
Creed 3 Final Thoughts
I’ve always wondered if Michael B. Jordan was actually a good actor or if he’s just hot. But with Creed 3 the answer is becoming very clear to me. He’s good!
But he might be an even better director if he can maintain or even maybe build on the outstanding work he did in his incredible debut.
Recommendation: Go see Creed 3 in theaters! Spring for the IMAX, Dolby, or whatever other premium format upgrade you can get. This movie is awesome.