‘Creed III’ review: This ‘Rocky’ franchise is still hitting hard

Michael B. Jordan steps back into the ring and up to the steering wheel with Creed III, which is his directorial debut as well as reprising his role as Adonis Creed. Continuing the tradition that began in 1976 Rocky, the latest boxing drama centers on an underdog wannabe who fights—literally and figuratively—for everything he loves. These are stories of pride, honor and masculinity defined by chiseled muscles and overwhelming emotional vulnerability. Impressively, Jordan is shouldering all of that legacy while delivering yet another knockout to this franchise.

What is Creed III about?

Created by Eli Ade/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

It may seem that Adonis Creed (Jordan)’s underdog days are long behind him. He has retired as World Heavyweight Champion. He is married to rock star/dreamer Bianca (Tessa Thompson). The two live in a glitzy mansion in Los Angeles, where they enjoy quality time with his mother (Phylicia Rashad) and the couple’s young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Having spent the last three years out of the ring, Adonis has dedicated himself to developing the next generation of boxers, but his comfortable life is threatened when a remnant of his repressed past resurfaces.

Childhood friend Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) was once a promising young boxer who seemed destined to leave Crenshaw and make it to the big time. Back then, Dame played both protector and mentor to wide-eyed ‘Donny’, who wanted to box. But a cruel twist of fate led to 18 years in prison for Dame. Now that he’s finally out, he tears down Adonis’ life, seeking not a handout but some form of payback.

Decades ago they were brothers. However, as Dame enters the scene with a chip on his shoulder and nothing to lose, Adonis is thrown off balance. The two are destined to come to blows, and the title of “underdog” will shift from the prison boxer who was scorned for being “too big” for this young man’s sport to the former champion whose years in retirement have made him “soft.” .

Michael B. Jordan gives the spotlight to Jonathan Majors.

Two men in a boxing ring look at each other with a referee between them.

Created by Eli Ade/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

An established leading man with dazzling star power, Jordan confidently returns to the role he began in 2015 Creed. Once again, he gracefully balances scenes of internal wrestling with the physical drama of the boxing ring. He and Thompson revive their easy but electrifying chemistry. And it’s an absolute pleasure to watch Jordan play dad to the vivacious Amara, who speaks with signs and — sometimes — with her fists. In his daughter, Adonis sees a reflection of his own youthful desire for control. Dame brings back the dark side of this hunger in a shocking way.

Dame is the foil of Adonis. Where Adonis is suave, eternally relaxed and always ready with a smile, Dame is tense, a twisted knot of muscle and trauma, with a smile that twitches like a gag reflex. Where Adonis prefers tailored suits, Dame wears a battered hoodie. In their big match, Adonis will be wearing gorgeous white shorts, declaring that he is the white hat in this showdown, while Dame’s pitch black shorts flare like the wings of a dark bird of prey. In all these ways, Jordan’s direction paints Dame as the shadow of Adonis. It represents a dark secret long buried, a painful past that has been willfully forgotten, and – most poignantly – the path that Adonis could have gone down with one mistake.

This comparison is clear through sharp visual cues as well as the script by Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin and Ryan Coogler. The dialogue between these estranged siblings breaks with these things too terrible, too tender to say out loud. However, what drives these differences, these stakes and this bond-making house of resentment is the Majors.

A woman in white and a man in red look at each other lovingly.

Created by Eli Ade/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

The rising star has been steadily building critical acclaim since his impressive role in the 2017 heart-pounding drama The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Since Sundance, he’s been garnering buzz for his unsettling yet compelling lead performance in the bodybuilding drama Dreams Magazine. He is ready to dominate the MCU as their last big bad, Kang the Conqueror. And here, in the house where Rocky built, Majors flexes his muscles and range to devastating effect.

As Dame, Majors’ tense physicality conveys a backdrop of an adulthood lost in a cell, where his brute strength was not just a tool of protection but a promise of the life he would build when he finally got out. The light in his eyes flickers with hope, but in the blink of an eye he can turn wild. Similarly, his voice can float like a butterfly and then sting like a Mack truck. Even when Dame becomes the villain of this piece, Majors’ intense emotional core, full of rage and sadness, begs for empathy. We may be gasping in shock, but our heartstrings are still tugging. His choices are not those of a noble boxing hero, but— Creed III seems to challenge — what options does he have to begin with?

Creed III delivers edge-of-your-seat sports drama.

A boxer enters the ring wearing a USA cape.

Created by Eli Ade/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

As a director, Jordan comes out swinging with him Creed III. The film has a compelling journey of remorse, revenge and redemption, working in the domestic drama, strong attitudes and spectacular sports spectacle required of this franchise. However, this sequel has shocking energy. Its rhythm, like its protagonist, moves gracefully and powerfully.

Scenes of the Creed family living in the lap of luxury are kinetically interwoven with Dame’s struggle to pull himself out of the shadows. The stunning cinematography transforms Los Angeles into a series of beautiful and gritty cityscapes, where glass mansions glitter and grimy liquor stores shine. This contrast of these two worlds further supports the film’s central rivalry, where several scenes of Adoni confronting himself in a mirror prompt the audience to consider his struggle to fully understand who he was to Dame, then and now.

Kramer Morgenthau’s cinematography masterfully reinforces the story and then becomes tremendously dynamic in the ring. The camera glides smoothly and powerfully around the boxers, like partners in their intricate choreography. Slow-motion shots combined with powerful sound effects sell every punch, highlighting the painful rippling of hammered flesh and the springs of sweat that erupt freely. Then, in a stunning moment, the camera pans across from Adonis, in Dame’s POV as an uppercut lands. Boom, the camera tilts up, hitting our eyes on the lights above. It’s a move so riveting that you might as well be groaning as if your own jaw had been crushed by that famous punch. It’s amazing and exciting.

What we have to say, Creed III packs a hell of a punch.

Creed III is now in theaters.

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