Review: ‘Creed III’ is solid fun but buckles in third act

Jonathan Majors in Creed III (MGM)

For two-thirds of “Creed III,” the movie is better than any freshman directorial effort has the right to be.

The film’s cliched payoff does not detract from star and director Michael B. Jordan’s effort with this movie. He delivers behind and in front of the camera.

The movie’s stumble to the finish is more on screenwriters Keenan Coogler (yes Ryan’s brother) and Zach Baylin, whose script hits all the right notes until it doesn’t with the climactic fight.

The script for the third act offers nothing that we haven’t already seen previously in the “Creed/Rocky” franchise, nothing.

One wouldn’t be wrong in calling “Creed III” a remake of “Rocky III” — the one where Mr. T plays Clubber Lange — with maybe a bit more heart early but less late with its stale instead of triumphant finish.

Credit Jordan for creatively injecting his love for anime into the closing fight sequence.

In the middle of the showdown between Adonis Creed (Jordan) and Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors), the film takes a stylistically risky shift where the crowd, their chants, cheers, and jeers disappear from the screen to mimic the focus of the combatants tuning out everything but their adversary. It’s trying to make the fight more personal.

It’s a bold move in the film that didn’t worked for me, but I’m guessing might have for other viewers. It took me out of the movie for a bit. Other may see that differently.
While the sameness of the movie’s ultimate conclusion left me a little unfulfilled, the reason to see “Creed III” are the opening two acts where the script and Jordan’s execution of it is so compelling.

Unlike his mentor Rocky, who only appears in a photo and a bit of conversation in the movie, Jordan’s Adonis Creed is excelling at life outside the ring.

He’s got a fulfilling family life with is his wife Bianca, so deftly and affectionately played by Tessa Thompson. Their charming daughter is a joy to them and Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), who is deaf but lacks for nothing because of the love of her parents and grandmother Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad).

Professionally, Adonis has glided into the role of big-time boxing promoter with aplomb. He’s setting up a championship fight between former opponent Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) and the current champ Pretty Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew), when a dark echo from his past returns in the form of Majors’ Dame.

Dame isn’t outwardly as ferocious as Clubber Lange. Dame is a schemer like a Cassius or Iago, who plays his childhood friend like a fiddle to get exactly what he wants.

Majors is excellent in the role and his performance makes the movie. Jordan is just as good as Adonis, but his character is the prey in this film, not the predator.

Majors is becoming ubiquitous on the big screen, but that is fine by me. He’s great as the villain Kang in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” without a doubt the best part of the film.

If I didn’t know better, you could convince me that Majors played the titular character in “Cocaine Bear.” He probably would’ve done a better job than the CGI black bear in the film.

Majors has an undeniable presence on film no matter the role. His character is despicable in this movie, and yet Majors makes the audience feel empathy for Dame despite his antagonism toward Creed and his family.

Credit here must also go to Jordan for his direction. The script is what it is, but their is not a false note in the acting, and that is a sign of strong direction.

Dame really did get a raw deal when he was a teen and best buddies with Creed, and his anger with his old friend is understandable if not justified. How he seeks justice, though, is scummy, but it adds a Shakespearean aura to the movie that’s compelling.

Man, did I enjoy the first two-thirds of the film, and on a certain visceral level, I enjoyed the showdown between Creed and Dame in the ring. I even liked the movie’s coda. It’s a couple of well-done scenes, first Adonis with Dame and finally, Adonis with his family in the ring.

“Creed III” was perhaps a bit too cartoonish at points, but that can be claimed about most of the Creed/Rocky films. The cliched conclusion of the fight tugs at my enjoyment, though.

The greatness of the original “Rocky” was that Stallone, who not only starred but also penned the script, allowed the main character to triumph even without winning the fight with Apollo Creed.

That’s life in a nutshell.

“Creed III” fails to reach that level of greatness, but it’s still a very fun and mostly well-crafted movie that no doubt will leave many in the audience cheering.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 57 min.
Grade: B

House of Darkness special screening set for March 15

Kate Bosworth, Justin Long, and Gia Crovatin in House of Darkness (SSS Entertainment)

Arkansas Cinema Society and the Fayetteville Film Festival are holding a special screening for director Neil LaBute’s latest effort, “House of Darkness” at the Malco Razorback on March 15th.

“House of Darkness” was shot at The Dromborg estate, located just outside of Fayetteville, in 2021.

Fayetteville’s Blake and Kerri Elder executive produced the movie through their Rockhill Studios.

Neil LaBute (“In the Company of Men” and “The Wicker Man”) wrote and directed the seductive thriller that stars Justin Long (“Barbarian”) and Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns”) as two people who hook up at bar but end up at her out-of-the-way estate where things escalate from playfully sexy to downright sinister. Gia Crovatin and Lucy Walters have supporting roles.

I won’t give away the goods concerning this horror comedy— although the trailer gives away some hints — but the film is inspired by one of the most spookily sexy chapters in gothic literature.

Some might remember Instagram posts of Long and Bosworth out enjoying familiar Northwest Arkansas sites while they were in the area shooting the film.

Doors open at 6 p.m. The show starts at 6:30. A question-and-answer session with the executive producers will follow. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the theater or through the Fayetteville Film Festival.

New in Local Theaters – March 3, 2023

Creed III (PG-13) 1 hr. 57 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight)
Operation Fortune: Ruse de guerre (R) 1 hr. 54 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Towne)
Close (PG-13) 1 hr. 44 min. (trailer)(Malco Pinnacle)

Classic Corner – Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart and Melie Chang in Casablanca (Warner Bros.)

Some movies are like comfort food, no matter how many times you’ve enjoyed them, you always want more.

“Casablanca” is one of those films for me, and if it is for you, as well, then you might consider checking it out at one of its big-screen showings at the Malco Razorback in Fayetteville and Malco Pinnacle Hills at Rogers on Sunday at 1 p.m. and Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Humphrey Bogart stars as the no-nonsense night-club owner Rick, who is knocked for a loop when his old flame Ilsa, played to perfection Ingrid Bergman, turns up in his establishment with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henried), a Czech Resistance leader who has escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

There is romance, political intrigue, twists, turns, double-crosses, and heart-wrenching decisions before the climax, which features one of the most selfless acts in film history.

The 1942 film is expertly directed by Michael Curtiz and features strong character turns by the likes of Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Conrad Veidt.

And of course there is that song, “As Time Goes By,” sung by Dooley Wilson as Sam the house pianist.

There might not be a perfect movie in existence, but “Casablanca” is mighty close.