Creed is a film franchise that’s almost too good to be true. There aren’t even many single films spun off from an iconic film franchise that are successful, let alone that spawn their own trilogy. The original Rocky premiered in 1976, had its own incredible run of six films over 30 years, ending with Rocky Balboa in 2006. When Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan took the baton with Creed in 2015, it felt like one last gasp of air for a dead franchise. Instead it turned into a rebirth, transitioning the focus to a new generation of characters and storytellers and telling genuinely fresh stories.
Coogler handed over the directing duties to Steven Caple Jr. for the sequel, and to cap off the trilogy (at least for now), titular star Michael B. Jordan is at the helm of Creed III, making his directorial debut.
The result is an emotionally satisfying and viscerally stirring film, with fantastic performances by Michael B. Jordan and new addition Jonathan Majors. Jordan and Majors are magnetic on screen together and carry the film on their considerable shoulders. One can only hope that this isn’t the last time these two incredible artists share the screen together as they clearly elevate one another.
Creed III is highly entertaining, with stellar action sequences. The pacing and dialogue have some issues, but the film has the knock-out power where it needs it the most. I would definitely like to see more stories told in the Creed universe, which is the best compliment I can give to the final film of a trilogy.
Creed III premieres in theaters March 3, 2023!
After dominating the boxing world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy, Damian (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove that he deserves his shot in the ring. The face-off between former friends is more than just a fight. To settle the score, Adonis must put his future on the line to battle Damian – a fighter who has nothing to lose. Creed III is the third installment in the successful franchise and is Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut.
Creed III is a much more relationship focused story than one would expect from a boxing feature. What happens in and around the ring is secondary to the bonds between Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) and his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), his daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), his mother Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad), and especially, his friend turned rival Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors).
The girl dad moments between Creed and his daughter are incredibly sweet and set the tone of the film from the first scene to the last. The love between the two grounds the story, which is otherwise full of intensity and frustration, and remains an overarching theme throughout the film. Mila Davis-Kent, a deaf, nine-year-old actress making her feature film debut, adds much needed levity and joy to the film. Representation for the disabled community is far too rare in major films like this, and not only is Amara an important character, but the story does not sideline her or try to minimize her disability. Amara is a very visible character, who regularly communicates via American Sign Language with Creed, Bianca, Mary-Anne and even Damian. Every major member of the cast uses ASL to converse with Davis-Kent at various points in the film and the admiration and affection that they all have for her is readily apparent.
The single most critical relationship dynamic is of course between Creed and newly introduced Damian Anderson, who is Creed’s childhood friend. Majors is predictably incredible, delivering a performance that is emotional, intimidating and yet also sympathetic. Damian’s story plays out in a way where audiences can clearly understand his motivation, his journey and his sacrifice. At no point did I root against Damian, and Majors’ ability to toe the very fine line between antagonist and villain is truly impressive. While the script has some weaknesses, Damian’s story is the most well developed, which is critical to the film’s success. Considering Majors’ imposing presence and physique, it would have been tempting and easy to rehash Mr. T’s Clubber Lang from Rocky III (who is one of the underrated great villains in pop culture). And while that would have been entertaining, it would have also been far less satisfying. Thankfully, aside from Majors’ look (complete with the black trunks), there are few similarities between his Damian and Clubber Lang. Damian is much more layered, sympathetic and interesting. Even as he’s creating challenges for Creed, I couldn’t help but empathize with what Damian went through and why he’s doing what he needs to do in the film.
Damian is particularly vexing to Wood Harris’ Duke Burton. As a father figure to Creed, Duke is caught in between Creed’s troubled past and his more stable present. Harris, who has had a truly stellar career from projects like Remember the Titans The Wire, and Empire, routinely makes the most with every role he is given. His performance here is understated but memorable and Harris deserves recognition for elevating every project he’s a part of.
Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson continue to be the pillars of this franchise and it’s wonderful to see how comfortable the two have become as Creed and Bianca. Their relationship is the bedrock of the Creed films and the fact that it’s portrayed as a healthy, happy, yet realistic, marriage is critical. Creed and Bianca support one another and love each other, but deal with real conflict. Ultimately, that’s what makes the Creed franchise stand out – it’s a series with relatable characters dealing with believable problems and you can’t help but root for all of them to win.
As strong as Majors is (both literally and figuratively), and as sympathetic as Damian is written, the film still struggles with wanting to treat him as a villain but he really isn’t one. There’s a heavy-handedness to his character’s portrayal in certain moments when a little nuance would have really elevated the story.
Creed III is a film about two young Black kids who were victims of abuse, both by individuals and the system. And specifically for Damian, he was robbed of his potential and dreams. While the film does a good job of establishing that Damian deserves some sympathy, it doesn’t fully examine why. Nearly all of the characters have surprisingly little sympathy for him.
Thankfully, the one who does is Adonis Creed, and as a result this might be the one boxing film where the climactic fight isn’t about satisfying bloodthirst. As the two punch and scream at each other, their frustrations aren’t as much with each other as they are with the circumstances around them; and that’s where their and our frustrations should lie. Because the villain of this story isn’t Damian; it’s the systems around the two boys that failed them.
Beyond Damian, Creed III struggles with awkward dialogue and pacing. We all know where the story is headed but it takes too long to focus, and when it does, the build-up to the climactic fight isn’t given enough room to breathe. Instead, a highlight package that feels hastily thrown together seeks to provide the anticipation that is lacking. Even the training montage, which every fan of these kinds of films is eager to see, is less impactful than it should have been.
What Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler and the Creed creative team have done with this franchise is genuinely impressive. They revitalized a franchise that seemed dead while highlighting and centering Black actors, writers and directors. There are not many blockbuster studio franchises that can boast three films directed by three different Black directors and written by several different Black writers. Prior to 2015, it was inconceivable that the Rocky franchise would evolve into one that tells stories of Black characters and relationships, and it’s not an easy accomplishment to do so while still appealing to mass audiences.
THE RATING – 4/5 Pocky
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.