The past two Creed films have had this feeling of the lead boxer Adonis (Michael B Jordan), constantly living in the shadows of Rocky and Apollo, despite how great the movies have been. Creed III is the first film that feels like the torch has passed. It also makes the fight more personal and expands on Adonis as a character, making for a compelling boxing picture.
Much time has passed since the events of Creed II (2018). Adonis has gotten older and decided to leave the ring to run things behind the scenes. While managing new boxers, he spends time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and deaf daughter Amara to build up his own family. But there are still some ghosts of the past that haunt him.
Coming back into Adonis’s life is Dame (Jonathan Majors), his boxing friend from his more rebellious days. While Adonis grew up to become a professional and revered boxer, Dame remained in prison. Having recently been released, Dame is hoping to resume his dreams that were once denied. Even though Dame is much older than Creed, the pro boxer thinks he can turn things around for his old pal.
Dame is a good fighter for taking on one of Creed’s title-hungry boxers. Too good. He becomes incredibly aggressive and goes over the line regarding violence. Creed soon realizes he’s created a monster, and the only way to stop his bullying reign is to take on his old friend in their familiar battleground.
The fight scenes directed by Jordan were inspired by anime and punched much harder than the previous Creed movies. There are many more ouch-worthy moments as characters get slugged in their sides and have their teeth practically knocked out with heavy blows. Majors is intimidating enough with his aggressive performance, but he’s an absolute monster in the ring with how his many punches are framed. His gloating nature makes him such a great villain and, wow, that scene where he punches Creed so hard in the gut you can almost see the imprint on his back is such a brutal moment.
Adonis goes through the familiar Rocky arc of dusting off the gloves. He thinks he’s too old, and his trainer acknowledges this aging boxer’s uphill battle. This aspect makes his routine training montage far more inspiring than how he refuses to stay down. Adonis’s determination of Adonis also plays nicely into his grander goals of being honest with the past and making amends for past mistakes. There’s more on the line here than just the satisfaction of winning and the pride of dominating the ring.
Despite how little she is used, I did appreciate Phylicia Rashad returning as Creed’s mother. She fulfills the similar thematic block as the rest of the family but becomes a crucial aspect of Adonis and his growth for learning from the past and looking towards the future. Her few scenes add a lot of heart to a picture of two friends finding common ground as they beat each other’s rippling muscles.
There’s a remarkable choice by Jordan when it comes to directing the big showdown. Sure, there are some exciting shots, but the middle of the long and draining battle is artistically framed within an empty arena. The world drops out as we watch Jordan and Majors make their feud hit harder to become something more significant. They don’t use this space to argue further about the time lost and broken friendships. That much is communicated visually through the darkness of the ring and the jail bars they slam into when up against the ropes. I didn’t expect the film to go this hard, which made me love it all the more.
Creed III proves that this boxing saga hasn’t lost steam and can continue without the heavy association with the Rocky legacy. Adonis Creed has formed a legacy all his own and has transformed him into more than just a Next Generation Rocky. The Creed film series is in good hands, considering that Jordan knows how to throw a punch and direct it beautifully.