Michael B. Jordan makes it loud and clear that he’s ready to take his career to the next level with Creed III. The beloved actor makes the jump to the director’s chair, with the help of original director and producer Ryan Coogler of course. Having worked together since 2013’s Fruitvale Station, this transition makes sense and is practically seamless. Creed III carries the distinct griminess and versatility that Coogler established in the first film with more than enough of Jordan’s own unique flavor. It stands high as one of the most distinguished sequels from the Rocky franchise, which is really saying something given the absence of Rocky Balboa himself. Michael B. Jordan fully commits to creating a cinematic experience that is both visceral and more imaginative than what you would expect from a boxing flick. If you thought this iconic series had already peaked, guess again.
Creed III kicks off with a flashback to 2002 Los Angeles. The young Adonis Creed (portrayed by Thaddeus J. Mixson) can already take care of himself on the streets but is nowhere near the level-headed boxer we’ve come to know and love. He speaks out at night to assist his 18-year-old childhood friend Damian Anderson (Spence Moore II), who’s quickly rising in the ranks of the amateur LA boxing scene. The two are ride-or-die brothers, with Damian promising to always have Adonis by his side for all the years he’s carried his boxing gloves and supported him at local fights. This all changes after one life-changing brutal altercation at a liquor store that sees Damian sent to jail for possession of an illegal firearm. A tragic event that ultimately saw Adonis turn his back on his best friend out of fear.
Fast forward to today and Creed has successfully retired after once again besting “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) for the light heavyweight championship. He may have hung up his gloves, but the Creed empire continues to thrive with his own gym and sponsored fighters ready to carry his legacy, such as the new hot shot and champ to be Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) and even former foe Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). Creed spends more time in a suit than he does in boxing gear in this movie, and this works in the favor of his continuous character growth. We get to see a whole new side of Creed, maintaining his public image as a businessman while also playing the role of a nurturing father and husband in his family life. This juggling act is soon disrupted by the now-adult Damian (Jonathan Majors) being released from prison after a long sentence.
Damian has been merely a repressed memory for Adonis, and the former boxing prodigy’s thirst for redemption leads to Creed finally confronting his bruised past, and eventually coming out of retirement to settle the score. The writing team – made up of Ryan Coogler, his brother Keenan Coogler, and Zach Baylin – build quite the formidable foe with Damian Anderson. Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors boast an electrifying chemistry, you can honestly feel all of their unsettled history by just the look in their eyes. Jordan has been very vocal about how anime has influenced his directing style, from Naruto to Hajime no Ippo. In true form, he frames Creed and Anderson’s relationship like a bona fide shonen rivalry. There’s a real overwhelming sense of tragedy that looms over their shared arc, as if their unfortunate past has doomed them to face off against each other until one stops breathing.
If there’s anything you can try to ding Creed III for it’s how Adonis and Damian’s grievance-fueled boxing match plays out. Whereas some might call it predictable or even clichéd, that critique misses the point of what Michael B. Jordan is trying to accomplish. Jordan sticks to the book of creating a rivalry that never gets old, just like what we’ve seen in famous animes. Creed III does have these inherent tropes, but it would be similar to complaining about Goku and Vegeta constantly fighting, calling a truce, then fighting again. This kind of back-and-forth intensity never loses its charm and appeal, especially when the characters are fleshed out like they are in Creed III. Furthermore, there’s a real touching message found within Creed and Anderson’s journey, one of toxic masculinity and opening up to those in our lives we should never take for granted.
Tessa Thompson’s Bianca Creed and Mila Davis-Kent as the young Amara Creed are crucial in getting this message across, but their roles are not simply here to prop up Adonis. They’re given agency in this story and have fascinating developments of their own, making this a movie about family unity above all else. Even though Bianca’s career as a music producer is thriving, she must ponder her career when her fate as a writer who can never sing her own songs on stage is brought into the spotlight. On the other hand, Amara is starting to take an affinity for boxing and her parents wrestle with what kind of example they’re setting for their daughter. It’s impressive how Creed III can neatly fit all these threads in under 2 hours while still giving memorable moments to favorable characters like Duke (Wood Harris) and Adonis’ mother Mary-Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad).
Regarding the visuals, Michael B. Jordan and returning Creed II cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau easily craft the most epic entry of the trilogy. Every punch is given weight and each boxing scene is given its own flair depending on which fighter is in the ring. The boxing on-screen continuously brings something new to the table fight after fight, culminating in a grand finale that could be the most imaginative set piece from any Rocky film. It’s all these reasons why Sylvester Stallone’s absence is not severely felt. Stallone’s departure from Creed III may have been due to creative differences, however, this sequel is already packing so much heat that Rocky wouldn’t have been able to fit in more than a glorified cameo, and he deserves more than that obviously. Stallone has already teased that he’ll be back as Rocky eventually, but Creed III works for the better without him.
Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut changes the game for the Rocky franchise. He moves the camera with the confidence of someone who’s been waiting to unleash this creative drive for years. With such fine cinematic grandeur on display, Jordan definitely has a future as a director outside of this series. Wherever he goes next behind the camera, you can bet we’ll be there day one. Plus, it’s great to see Jonathan Majors in a worthy role after the mixed reception to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Creed III lives up to the hype and then some, it takes the signature ingredients of Rocky to make something totally captivating and one-of-a-kind. See this on the biggest screen you can folks.