Creed III Builds a New Legacy in a Thrilling, If Uneven, Crowdpleaser

Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut is a somewhat rocky triumph.


The directive of the Creed franchise to build its own legacy has often felt shaky. For one, the first two installments, while setting up Adonis Creed as the scion of heavyweight champion Apollo, leaned heavily on the emotional presence of its former hero, Rocky. Secondly, though the Rocky franchise relied on incredible narrative and visual continuity (of the six films, four were helmed by Sylvester Stallone and two by John G. Avildsen), each Creed film has been led by different directors. With Creed III, the series’ star Michael B Jordan, in his directorial debut, is now the third filmmaker to guide this character past the shadows of its roots.

In this third installment, a mix of Rocky III and Rocky V, not only does Stallone not appear. The Italian Stallion isn’t even mentioned. Nor is Ivan Drago, even though his son shows up. After a series of strokes, Adonis’ adoptive mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad) also has a lesser presence. Creed III, a film which opens with Adonis in his final fight before an early retirement, focuses its tension in the chapters ending where new ones are expected to begin.

Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis Creed celebrates an early retirement.


See, Adonis is tired of getting his head smashed in: With his young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) and a growing business as a fight promoter for his champions at Delphi gym, he sees a safer future away from the ring. His wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), similarly, has taken a step back from performing to writing and producing several gold and platinum records.

Their financial success in service of a dynastic rule over the entertainment space, however, can’t wholly heal their internal fissures: Rather than talking through her disagreements through sign language, the deaf Amara uses her fists to settle confrontations. Bianca sees Amara’s insularity as a symptom of Adonis’ inability to be vulnerable. One such agony arrives when his childhood friend, Damian "Dame" Anderson (an unforgettable Jonathan Majors), fresh out of prison after an 18-year stint, arrives at Adonis’ gym looking for a chance to put his life back together. Dame was once a golden gloves champion and a kind of brother to Adonis in their group home. But a confrontation outside of a liquor store between a young Adonis and an older man ruined Dame’s future.

In a lithe script written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, Adonis must consider the bones he’s built his legacy upon. Should he feel culpable for what happened to Dame? How much can he give back to his former friend without putting his own business at risk? As a director, Jordan crafts the visual dynamics between these two characters with a surprising assuredness. He knows the entire stories and backgrounds, wants and wounds that are visible on an actor’s face. Relying on a bevy of close-ups, Jordan allows his and Majors’ wellspring of emotiveness to flourish, adding beats that plain old dialogue cannot: Across Jordan’s brow we can see Adonis’ guilt, and smeared across Majors’ beguiling expression is an interplay between desperation, anger, and charm.

Adonis Creed (Jordan) and Damian “Dame” Anderson (Majors) are two former friends who find themselves at odds.


A tremendous diner scene, maybe the film’s best, where a Dame awash in honey-colored light clearly states his goal to become heavyweight champion, is one such example of the actors’ wordless dance. A beachfront tussle between Adonis and Dame, while physical and wordy, sets another soul-stirring tone. Because Dame doesn’t just want to become champion. He wants what Adonis has, and in the process, is willing to destroy everything the young Creed has built. The violent emergence of Dame provides a firm ground for Adonis to finally build a legacy away from the specter of Apollo (it’s telling that Apollo’s visage looms in nearly every frame).

Creed III, however, plays fast and loose with its themes, particularly the heaps of classism and Black regalism that uneasily pervades the entire franchise. Though hinted at by Dame pushing Adonis’ nepo-baby buttons, it’s never wholly laid bare. In fact, you wonder if the Creed franchise knows how ungainly their walk between institutional racism and the family’s protective bubble built with a white conception of capitalism looks from the outside. The same could be said of Adonis’ need to open up, to communicate in a way that sets an example to his daughter not to handle all of her problems with her fists. We brush by Adonis’ vulnerability so quickly, one wonders if his daughter learned the right lessons by the end.

Instead the film assuredly brushes back to what it instinctively knows: how to brawl. But Jordan adds further new aesthetic layers to the common Rocky tropes. Adonis returns to the desert training ground of Creed II, where he participates in an inspired fight montage that sees him pulling a small plane with his shoulders and culminates with him standing atop the Hollywood sign’s Mount Lee. This will not be a title match in a cacophonous arena. The final bout happens in Dodger Stadium, and is as glitzy, glamorous, and star studded — in a way that’s the total opposite of the Rocky series — as one can get.

Jonathan Majors turns in a show-stopping performance in Creed III.


Jordan’s sturdy visual language — reliant on oblique angles and unique compositions crafted with cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau — takes hold in this closing confrontation between Adonis and Dame: He reimagines the confines of the ring through surreal anime settings, which take the viewers inside the psychological battle raging within each fighter’s head in such a sharp, digestible, and entertaining fashion, you wonder why anyone was still doing the usual staid round-by-round sequencing common to far too many boxing films. Jordan’s decision to swerve past tradition creates an internal drama and tension that sets a precedent for future films in this genre. In the process, his use of slow motion, allowing the viewer to gleefully take in bruising shots to the body, doesn’t feel cartoonish or simplistic. They’re deeply felt, crowd-pleasing swings.

And while the final quiet moments at film’s end between friends doesn’t land the emotional punch the script desires — one where these spiritual brothers reunite under the banner of mutual respect — Creed III is a thrilling crowning of a new hero grappling with his own complicated legacy.

Creed III opens in theaters on March 3.

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