Creed III (2023)
You Can’t Run From Your Past.
In 2015, filmmaker Ryan Coogler found a way to breathe new life into Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series, revitalizing the decades-old boxing saga by giving us a spin-off with a new protagonist to follow in Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed. And Coogler and Jordan’s hard work has definitely paid off as this third chapter in the ‘roaring’ Creed franchise (the ninth in the overall Rocky saga) doesn’t even feature Stallone’s Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa. Creed III is also a superb directorial debut for Michael B. Jordan, who takes over the reins to play on both sides of the ring as star and director. Jordan delivers an impressive film that’s primarily out to satisfy fans and entertain.
Creed III focuses solely on Jordan’s Adonis, chiefly his family life and ugly past, which he’s forced to fight head-on in the form of his former friend Damian ‘Dame’ Anderson (Jonathan Majors), who he’d left behind after a traumatic incident he experienced as a child. Interestingly, this story of a figure from Adonis’ past wanting revenge in the present was what drew Stallone away from the project, calling it “a regretful situation” and claiming that it’s not the direction he would have taken the story.
We’re reacquainted with Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) when he’s retired his boxing gloves after having become the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Instead of sparring in the ring, Creed’s now taken on a managerial role promoting his successor, the current heavyweight champion, Felix Chavez (played by real-life boxer José Benavidez Jr.). Adonis is also enjoying the celebrity life in his glamorous L.A. mansion, spending more time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) — who’s producing records now due to her hearing loss — and their deaf daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), whom the pair speak fluid sign language to.
The peace is disrupted when an enigmatic friend from Adonis’ past emerges; that friend is Damian (Jonathan Majors), a young boxing hopeful released after spending eighteen years in prison, jailed for taking the heat for Adonis after a violent episode from their youth. Now that Damian is back in the picture, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s hoping to use Adonis to get him back in the ring and give him a chance to become the boxing champion he’d always dreamed of becoming. Uncertain of what Damian’s truly seeking, a guilt-stricken Adonis gets his old pal into training, only to witness the unruly Damian fight for supremacy, aiming to destroy everything Adonis has created.
Written by Keegan Coogler and Zach Baylin from a story they wrote with Ryan Coogler (who serves as producer here), Creed III doesn’t reinvent the genre but does a solid enough job in balancing emotion with adult drama whilst delivering on those big sport-y set pieces audiences have come to expect from a Creed film.
The real crux of the story comes from the relationship between Adonis and Damian, the latter an ex-convict who believes he’s been wronged and is out to hurt the man responsible, Adonis; Damian basically symbolizes a path Adonis could have taken had life turned out differently. Even a ‘friendly’ meal at a restaurant between the pair comes off as somewhat threatening, with Majors’ Damian oozing with suspicion and menace. Things get real, though, during one of Bianca’s record-release parties, when a fumble from fighter Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) opens the door to give Damian a shot at the title, Adonis offering him the opportunity to duke it out against Chavez for fame and glory — and it’s no surprise who ends up victorious. With Damian now in the spotlight, Creed is eventually forced back into the ring to challenge his former friend, with filmmakers using this match to get Adonis to, quite literally, fight his past and the trauma he’d left behind.
While the principal narrative is quite strong, other story threads feel as though they’ve been tacked on, such as a cute subplot where Adonis teaches his daughter how to protect herself from bullies and box (future spin-off idea, perhaps).
Although it’s titled Creed, the real star of the show is Jonathan Majors (who’s having a bit of a moment), the 33-year-old actor stealing most of his scenes as antagonist Damian whilst making for a worthy and memorable foe for Adonis. Likewise, Jordan delivers his best performance in the title role yet, portraying a man who’s proud, brave, strong, and caring, willing to do anything to protect those he loves. It helps that the chemistry between Jordan and Majors is palpable, the scenes between the pair some of the flick’s strongest — and oh, these men are shredded as heck, their bods in amazing fighting-fit shape. Tessa Thompson is also good as Creed’s patient partner in crime, Bianca, despite having less to do this time around. Elsewhere, it’s nice to see Wood Harris and Phylicia Rashad reprise their roles of Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton and Mary-Anne, respectively, Harris playing the trainer who works at Creed’s gym, and Rashad, the woman who took Adonis in from juvenile detention and raised him as her own.
As you’d expect, Creed III offers very little in the way of surprises. But hey, these films are more about formula and execution, and Creed III definitely hits where it counts. The film is well performed and shot, and features some dynamic, intense fight sequences (the boxing scenes are terrific), making it a pretty stirring experience overall, even if it’s shy of being a complete knockout. And while Creed III offers some closure on Adonis’ story, it proves that the Rocky franchise can still live on without Stallone’s Balboa. This might not necessarily be the last we’ve seen of the Creeds.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)
Creed III is released through Warner Bros. Australia