Director Michael B. Jordan
Screenplay Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin characters by Sylvester Stallone
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Florian Murteanu, Phylicia Rashad, Mila Davis-Kent, Wood Harris

The Creed trilogy (Creed, Creed II) has done what few tangential series have accomplished: they’ve been consistently strong acting, stories and with a tighter hold on reality than the renowned series off of which it spawned. Michael B. Jordan works behind the camera this time, and he works off a good script by Baylin and Coogler to craft a solid tale of brotherly love gone awry.

The story starts in 2002, when Adonis “Donnie” Creed is watching his friend Damian “Dame” Anderson win the Golden Gloves championship. Afterwards, Donnie encounters someone from his past at reform school and begins a fight that ends with Dame serving a sentence of nearly two decades in prison.

Present day, three years after Creed (Jordan) retires a champion and is living a good life with his wife (Thompson) and a ferocious and beautiful daughter (Davis-Kent). As he leaves the gym he owns that has produced another champion, Adonis encounters his old friend (Majors) now out of prison, destitute, but still wanting to pursue his dream. Donnie must come to terms with his past or let the nightmare consume him, as it has Dame.

As Dame, Majors injects some serious acting power into the franchise, taking up where Stallone’s Rocky left off. His smile is at once sad, honest and menacing. We immediately feel the desperation he feels in the dream that he almost accomplished and the cool jealousy at Creed living the life that was his destiny. The tension between the stalwart actors is palpable and real. There is a real reason for the two to love and hate one another at the same time.

In his third turn as Creed, Jordan completely owns the role of the flawed protagonist. His ability to try to punch his way out of his feelings is expressed magnificently through his relationship with his daughter, who carries the same trait. Thompson does a great job of providing a balance to his aggression with the patience to wait until he comes to a realization on his own. Smartly, the film gives her Bianca a life of her own that threads the same needle as Donnie and Dame. Watching the three of them work it all out is touching as it is honest.

The best thing about this film, as with the other two, is the antagonist is fleshed out to be more than a monster. As much as I loved Rocky III‘s Clubber Lang and Rocky IV‘s Ivan Drago, their characters are paper thin. Dame Anderson has as much complexity as his counterpart, in much the same way Appollo Creed has with Rocky. We know the film is as much about these gladiators fighting their own demons as anything.

The only challenges the film presented to this viewer are the predictable hospital scene (something we’ve seen in almost every film of both series) and a soundtrack that has some good songs, but it also has others that are littered with the N-word. It’s something of a cultural divide, to be sure, but it’s incredibly hard to navigate the delightfully sensitive moments with his daughter to be shifted into a montage with music that has terms one would never want her to experience.

The climactic battle is also something of a departure from previous films. The fight is pretty even throughout, but some deliberate artistic changes to the tempo in the middle rounds is mystifying and feels out of place. What happens after the fight brings it all together to a winning conclusion.

It’s already decided that there will be a fourth film. How and where this series goes, is hard to tell. This feels like a complete cycle to me. Jordan has earned the right to keep going, as this series and the name Creed is completely his by now.

(**** out of *****)

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