There’s a line late in Creed III that sums up this installment perfectly — “The Creed dynasty reigns supreme.” That’s appropriate for a franchise that keeps knocking out one sequel after another without taking a bad outing to the chin yet.
The Creed franchise has done a admirable job of paying homage to its predecessor franchise with nods to the Rocky films. Creed II resumed the Rocky IV rivalry pitting Adonis against Viktor Drago, the son of Rocky’s rival.
For this chapter, screenwriters Keenan Coogler (Space Jam: A New Legacy) and Zach Baylin (King Richard) take their crack at a Creed take on Rocky III. Minus the boxer vs. wrestler encounter naturally.
There’s the unpolished, but angry powerhouse new challenger; the main character ready to move on from in-ring competition and enjoying retirement; a traumatic event thwarting the comeback attempt, unexpected help from a rival and the end of the road for a series regular. That’s a lot of Rocky III in the DNA of Creed III without losing sight of the differences between Adonis and Rocky and their respective stories.
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, Without Remorse) has enjoyed a lengthy and successful career as the unified boxing champ, but he’s ready for retirement. All the better to spend more time with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson, Thor: Love and Thunder), who’s adjusting to her own career changes.
The couple is also navigating parenthood as their daughter, Amara (an adorable Mila Davis-Kent), has inherited two things from her parents — Bianca’s hearing impairment and Adonis’ love of boxing.
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Adonis has settled into a solid post-boxing career — training fighters with his former trainer and friend Duke (Wood Harris) and promoting fights. Playing Don King is fine for Adonis as he doesn’t have that same anger and intensity he had when he started boxing.
Those old feelings come rushing back when Adonis’ childhood friend, Damian (Jonathan Majors, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania) returns after a nearly 20-year prison stint. Adonis feels a certain measure of guilt for his role in Damian’s imprisonment and while the flags are clearly a deep scarlet red, Adonis offers to help Damian out any way he can.
How could he not since Damian was more of a boxing mentor to Adonis than his father, Apollo? Damain sizes up Adonis’ life — the life he feels he should have had if his promising boxing career didn’t get derailed from his imprisonment. And yeah, maybe he also has some hard feelings towards Adonis about that as well.
When opportunity strikes, Damian establishes himself as a boxer to be feared. This drives a wedge between the former friends prompting Adonis to put his demons from the past to rest once and for all — provided he’s ready to face them head on.
Majors seems to channel every bit of ferocity Mr. T had when playing Clubber Lang in Rocky III and doubled down on raw intensity. He applies that to all aspects of Damian from his hungry lion gaze looking at Adonis’ trophies, the beautiful family and adoration from fans. Majors shows amazing range in his performances, and it feels like his latest one is always his best one. It might take a while for one to top this one as Damian’s rage is to a degree understandable making him a relatable character if not entirely sympathetic.
With zero involvement from Rocky star Sylvester Stallone in this outing, Creed III is fully Adonis’ show and despite one significant scene that Rocky would definitely not have missed, his absence didn’t derail the film.
Stallone sat this film out over a beef with longtime Rocky producer Irwin Winkler. Hopefully that can get resolved for Creed IV as there’s absolutely no reason to end this franchise anytime soon.
Jordan keeps finding different avenues to explore with Adonis. He’s a doting father and thriving in his retirement, but his temper still creeps up and Adonis still struggles to fully open up to Bianca. This still gives Adonis room to grow — maybe in future sequels?
Thompson remains solid as more than just emotional support for her husband. Bianca has her own subplot and issues. They’re given about as much time as you could reasonably expect in a boxing movie, but it’s nice to see Bianca’s role isn’t just to support Adonis.
Phylicia Rashad continues to be a welcome presence as Adonis’ mother. Harris probably is the biggest beneficiary of Stallone’s absence as he gets those in-your-face moments with Adonis that Rocky had in the first two films. That’s a nice flex to be able to have as talented a performer as Harris just waiting for a larger role.
This marks Jordan’s directorial debut although he hardly comes off like a rookie taking his first crack behind the camera. It doesn’t take long to see he took some notes from his frequent director collaborator and friend, Ryan Coogler. Jordan utilizes some engaging perspectives with an occasional visual gimmick to keep the film from being just another boxing movie.
The big showdown features several creative moments — one will likely prove divisive for those who love it and those who view it as more highbrow than necessary for a boxing movie. While it plays out a little long, it was an appreciated effort to infuse the series with a fresh perspective on the main event fight.
Creed III proves as long as Jordan is game to keep stepping into the ring this franchise will continue to leave audiences thrilled asking for one more bout.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: MGM