Movie Review ~ Creed III

The Facts:

Synopsis: Adonis Creed is thriving in his boxing career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove he deserves his shot in the ring.
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, Mila Davis-Kent, Phylicia Rashad, Selenis Leyva
Director: Michael B. Jordan
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 116 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review:  In 2015, director Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) pulled off a bit of a miracle, resurrecting the Rocky franchise by reshaping it as a spin-off for the son of the famed fighter’s most noteworthy opponent. Creed was a gamble, testing the waters for longtime fans of the series and seeing how well modern audiences would take to picking up a sequel mid-franchise. Coogler’s story was solid, and the performances from Michael B. Jordan and especially original star Sylvester Stallone were so spot-on terrific that it bolstered the film to be a box-office titan over the Thanksgiving holiday. It also created a reason to keep going with further chapters. 

With Stallone nearly winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work (damn you, Mark Rylance!), he was back alongside Jordan and much of the cast for Creed II, which, while entertaining, was more in the spirit of a classic Rocky sequel than drawing from the same bold inspiration that fueled its predecessor. He’s missing from this third chapter, now directed by Jordan, and that absence is deeply felt. Stallone chose not to return for this, and behind-the-scenes buzz had him in disagreement with the direction of the series, a rumor backed up by Jordan’s comments that many of the newer fans “don’t know who Rocky is”…ouch.   Perhaps that’s why the “R” word is mentioned only once in this efficient if ultimately low-stakes and ineffective episode.

Jordan (That Awkward Moment) stuffs a lot into a prologue, including showing a young Adonis (Thaddeus J. Mixon) following an older childhood friend Damian “Dame” Anderson (Spence Moore II), for a fateful night out and the older Creed fighting his last match in Cape Town 15 years later. Flashing to the present, Adonis is retired and living a comfortable life with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson, Passing), daughter Amara (Mia Davis-Kent) with the occasional visit to mom Mary Ann (Phylicia Rashad, Black Box), who has recently recovered from a stroke. His gym has grown so much that it has relocated across town and upgraded, preparing the new reigning world champion for a much-publicized fight.

It’s in this peaceful life that Creed’s old friend Damian (Jonathan Majors, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantunmania) crashes back into. Recently released from prison after eighteen years, the former Golden Gloves winner has stayed in shape and makes it clear he wants to regain the lost time by going for glory in the ring as soon as possible. Of course, Adonis can see something brewing below the surface that gives him pause, but without a guiding mentor, he fails to listen to his gut instinct and winds up blowing his world apart. Now, with a past he has locked away and run from circling back to pounce, the choice between secrets and truth will lead him to the one place he thought he was done with—the ring.

While they had their ups and downs, the ongoing presence of characters throughout kept the Rocky films consistent. Random important figures wouldn’t just suddenly drop back in and make themselves known, asking the viewer to recognize their importance. That’s a modern screenwriter’s trope based on star power and popularity, and it’s why Creed III is flimsy and flaps around more than the previous two films. A significant incident that impacted the trajectory of Adonis’s life is only revealed now. It isn’t a genuine discovery but a necessary corner to sweep. 

The script is often quite cornball in its development, with clunker clues dropped along the way that telegraphs what will happen in the second and third acts of the film. (Let’s put it this way, if someone says, “Careful, we don’t want you to eat that, you may choke.” In a half hour, that person will eat it and choke.)  The result is a feeling of low/no stakes for characters originally created to have dreams and ambitions riding a sharp edge of not coming true. That’s why we rooted for them initially and invested time. Now, it’s handled with such routine ho-hum-ness it can help but build to nothing.

Unfortunately, that also means the actors are at sea as well. Jordan is in a strange position wearing two hats. Stallone did the same, starting with Rocky II, but by that time, he had already directed himself in another film, so he knew how to find that balance. It’s not as easy for Jordan to transition, so he’s often only half there, failing to show what we know is an immense talent. That leaves Majors to carry to the mass of the dramatics, and as committed as the actor is to work, the villain he puts forth is so harsh that any redemption arc the film wants to give him doesn’t feel justified. Thompson shares the one rare moment of believable emotion Creed III has to offer; when husband and wife have the kind of heart-to-heart conversation, I’d be willing to bet Coogler (who provided the story) had a hand in writing.

The film is most potent in its hard-hitting fight scenes, and that’s what many audiences will come for. Jordan thinks outside of the box (er, ring) for these extended sequences. Along with cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau (Spirited), the two create a visually rich vocabulary with which to speak when all the screenplay has the actors doing is boxing. Joseph Shirley’s (Jackass Forever) rote score doesn’t match the rousing orchestrations provided by Ludwig Göransson (Turning Red) for the prior films. Still, Jordan is often a fan of dropping out the music all together for a dramatic impact.

Signs point to more Creed down the road, and I can guess where things may head if/when it happens. I’d hope Jordan is more open to allowing Stallone back into the ring with him because there was undeniable synergy in their original outings. Creed III is the most commercial and time-wasting of the Rocky Extended Universe so far, but this character needs to clear his head before taking on any new opponents.

Movie Review ~ Unseen

The Facts:

Synopsis: Gas station clerk Sam receives a call from Emily, a nearly blind woman running from her murderous ex in the woods. Using a video call, Emily must survive the ordeal with Sam being her eyes from afar.
Stars: Midori Francis, Jolene Purdy, Missi Pyle, Michael Patrick Lane
Director: Yoko Okumura
Rated: NR
Running Length: 76 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review:   I dunno, folks. Someone is missing the boat on creating a solid thriller anthology series right now because I’ve been seeing a growing number of movies boasting 45 minutes of juicy content that would go over like gangbusters if put into the right package. The trouble is that these 45 minutes are in the middle of longer films, sometimes twice that length, draining the electric energy generated by a creative idea. 

Take the new film Unseen, premiering On Demand in March before moving to MGM+ in May. One of the films produced under the Blumhouse Television banner exclusively for streaming, this has a fantastic concept that is ab-so-lut-ly perfect for the company known for sending audiences out of theaters (or into their bedrooms) appropriately terrified.

A young woman (Midori Francis, Ocean’s Eight) has been kidnapped and drugged by her crazy ex (Michael Patrick Lane, Tully) and taken to a remote cabin in the woods. Visually impaired without corrective eyewear, she manages to escape into the forest with her phone but breaks her glasses in the process. In another state (FL), depressed convenience store attendant Sam (Jolene Purdy, WandaVision) has shown up late again for her mundane shift and is about to fix the broken slush machine when she gets a call from an unknown number. It’s Emily, the girl in the woods whom Sam had conveniently misdialed earlier that morning. Unable to see her phone clearly, Emily called the number back, hoping that Sam could use her Facetime video to direct her out of the woods…and steer her clear of her psychotic boyfriend, that is desperately trying to hunt her down. While Sam battles her self-doubt and eventually a raging Karen-esque customer (a deranged Missi Pyle, Ma), she keeps Emily on the line and out of sight. As Sam’s battery decreases and Emily’s options become limited, both women must think quickly to work together to escape this dangerous situation.

If Unseen had clocked in at a cool 42 minutes, I could see myself taking a substantial breather at the end from the delightful stress of it all. This would have required director Yoko Okumura to tighten the pacing significantly, removing much of the inconsequential background info on both women provided as Emily strolls through the woods. While the film gets off to a banger of a start, eventually, there comes the point where Emily is working harder to pump up Sam’s crippling insecurity than finding a way out of her predicament. This is a life-or-death situation, and too often, the script from Salvatore Cardoni and Brian Rawlins has the women stopping to discuss plans for college and what they want to do with their lives. 

At 76 minutes, Unseen is one of the shorter offerings, yet it still feels too long. A glitch in my screener turned this one off at the 60-minute mark, and before restarting it I honestly couldn’t believe there were fifteen minutes left. It all leads to a bizarro conclusion (only in Florida, I tell you!) and a last-minute MacGuffin that couldn’t possibly still be in play. If you’re looking for a (very) similar film released in the last several years, check out See for Me, which finds someone with a visual impairment needing to be guided away from danger by outside assistance. That script has far more to explore with its characters and offers intriguing twists to characters you won’t expect. 

UNSEEN is on Digital and On Demand on March 7, 2023 and on MGM+ on May 2023.