It's been five years since audiences have seen Adonis "Donnie" Creed (Michael B. Jordan) defeat Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). In true Rocky fashion, it's time for fans of the spinoff franchise to catch up with the champion boxer. In Jordan's directorial debut, Creed III relies on the past to tell its latest story. And for the first time in the film series (both original & spinoff), this journey doesn't include the iconic Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).
Creed III takes place roughly 8 years after the the events of Creed II and focuses on Donnie, now retired and working as a boxing promoter. He balances that with his roles as husband, father and son - enjoying a life far removed from his days growing up in detention centers and group homes.
That past, though, returns to test Donnie when Damian "Diamond Dame" Anderson (Jonathan Majors) appears. Damian and Donnie were best friends growing up but they lost touch when Damian went to prison for an incident that Donnie fled. The darkness of that past overtakes Donnie's current life, and everything he's worked to attain could disappear as Damian, a former Golden Gloves champion, seeks his chance to become a contender.
Based on a script from Keenan Coogler (2021's Space Jam: A New Legacy) and Zach Baylin (2021's King Richard), Creed III ventures into darker territory than past Rocky/Creed features. The result is a gritty tale providing a stark reminder that the past can (and will) haunt one's present. It allows this oft-visited trope to be presented in a new and fresh way from an inexperienced but eager director.
Despite this being his inaugural outing, Jordan's work behind the camera is splendid. Having embodied the character of Adonis Creed since 2015, he had the advantage of already knowing Donnie, and thus confidently knew the direction he wanted to take him. If nothing else, Jordan allows Donnie to finally step out from Uncle Rocky's massive shadow to confront his personal demons.
Jordan relied on the sequel's actors to tell the story - Majors, Tessa Thompson (returning as Donnie's musician-wife Bianca) and Phylicia Rashad do the heavy lifting, along with Jordan.
Also worth mentioning is Mila Davis-Kent, the young actor who plays Donnie and Bianca's deaf daughter Amara. Davis-Kent is an adorable scene-stealer and held her own opposite Jordan, Thompson and Rashad. And since Davis-Kent is deaf in real life, Creed III tackles this condition with care and reverence.
The most impressive performance is provided by (surprise!) Majors. Damian is the clear heel, but this nuanced turn makes it difficult to completely root against him. Damian was locked up for 18 years - his dreams instantly gone due to a mistake. That mistake effected Donnie, too (since true friends look out for each other), as the mistake was the result of Donnie's actions (thus presenting an obvious, but effective, duality between Donnie and Damian). So maybe, just maybe, audiences can empathize with Damian rather than dismiss him (that's the Majors Effect - I see Damian simply as an impressive *not-so-subtle MCU reference* Kang Variant).
Although it's a tad predictable, and is another sequel that doesn't surpass the original, Creed III is a powerful drama that's more an overcoming adversity tale than win-at-all-costs sports saga. Its conflict runs deeper than culture clashes and revenge tales and earns further credence to the legitimacy of the Adonis Creed journey. It's a champion effort worthy of Rocky canon that will leave viewers intrigued as to the character's future. JV
4 out of 5 stars