When Sylvester Stallone announced that he would not be appearing in Creed III, many (including myself) wondered where the series would go without Rocky Balboa as the father figure/mentor to Michael B. Jordan‘s Adonis Creed.
It was also announced, at roughly the same time, that Jordan would be taking over directorial duties this time around, and it’s always a curious thing when an actor, especially one of Jordan’s caliber, decides to go to the other side of the camera. It’s not always a successful transition, historically, especially for a big budget movie like this.
Well, it turns out that Stallone stepping away may have been the best thing for this franchise, and this is coming from someone who adores the Rocky films and Stallone’s portrayal of the character. Instead of being beholden to the past, Creed III fiercely forges its own path.
While the Rocky films are very much a part of Creed III‘s DNA, this film is the child of many, not just the Rocky Saga. It feels fitting that Jordan directs this, and brings a new visual style and a new voice to these stories, because good storytelling is all about the shifting of perspectives, even while staying true to the core values that define the Rocky films.
In fact, if the values and the messages of the Rocky films are to mean anything throughout the almost fifty-year-old series, if they are to truly resonate, it’s important that we get new ideas and new challenges to those themes. These films have always been about fighting the worst aspects of ourselves and moving forward, finding strength in those who love us and having the capacity to grow.
As Adonis Creed (Jordan) tells his daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), “It’s not about violence.” The best moments of these films were always about that struggle, and Creed III has a lot of them.
What’s great about Jordan as a director is that he embraces the pulp sensibilities of these movies, but he elevates them into something more. Like Ryan Coogler with the first Creed, Jordan isn’t afraid to let the film get emotional, even melodramatic when it needs to. He trusts the veracity of the emotion to carry us through.
Under a less talented director, there would be scenes in Creed III that be cloying and maudlin, but Jordan reins it in just enough so that when the flood of emotions do come, it feels earned and genuine. That was what was always great about the Rocky movies at their best, that explosion of energy and love that carries us over on waves of feeling, and Creed III reminded me why I’ve been a fan of this series since I was a boy.
I’ve always had a fondness for Rocky III, and I love that Creed III is its own unique bounce off that film. I love Clubber Lang as a bad guy, and I love that Apollo Creed picks up Rocky when he’s down. Creed III gives us a character that gets to be both Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang personified in one person, and Jonathan Majors‘ Damian Anderson is absolutely compelling and makes a great adversary for Adonis.
Damian is a childhood friend, having stayed at the same group home. Damian is a boxer, and has talent and ambition, and Adonis, looking for role models everywhere, is a fierce and loyal friend. But through bad luck and unfortunate circumstances, Damian gets put away in prison for many years. Adonis could have went down that path as well if he wasn’t saved by Mary-Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), and Mary-Anne knows that it would be so easy for young Adonis to slip back if she didn’t keep careful watch.
Many years later, Damian is out of prison, and looking for a way up. Adonis, out of a sense of guilt and friendship, decides to help Damian get back into boxing, despite the warnings of Little Duke (Wood Harris) that Damian isn’t everything he seems to be. Soon Damian is coming for everything, and Adonis knows that no one will be able to stop him, unless he does.
Look, we can see where this movie’s going from space, but that’s been true of every single movie in this franchise. It was never about where it’s going but how we get there. Some of these films got there in more satisfactory ways then others. Creed III gets there in a very satisfying way, because the performances are so strong and because the direction is so assured.
Creed III isn’t afraid to get corny or sentimental – in fact, the best moments are when the movie embraces it. But Jordan has a playful style that isn’t afraid to shake things up in ways we do not expect. The fight sequences are incredibly well done – Jordan has stated that he was inspired by anime when coming up with the matches, and the results are kinetic, and energetic, and cinematic in ways we’ve never seen before in this series. He’s having fun and it shows.
It also shows in his performance, which in a lot of ways I like even more than in the first Creed film. Although the movie never outwardly says it, Adonis is still looking for Rocky in his corner, and because Rocky isn’t there this time around, Adonis makes choices that he probably never would have made had Rocky been there.
This is important because we need to see Adonis become more than just Apollo’s son, Rocky’s student, and become truly the man he was meant to be. That’s why it’s fitting that Stallone isn’t around this time – we get to see Adonis Creed without a safety net, and for this character to grow we needed to see that. Jordan is confident and assured in his work here.
I bagged on Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania hard, but it’s obvious that Jonathan Majors is a major (pun intended) talent. Here, Majors give Damian Anderson real complexity and spirit, while remaining a legitimate threat with a justified anger. This isn’t a villain we can toss aside once the credits roll.
It’s easy to see why young Adonis worshipped the ground Damian walked on, and both Jordan and Majors utterly sell that relationship. When it goes south, there’s a real sense of tragedy to it, of unspoken pain that if only the two would figure out how to share that wasn’t through violence, may give both of them a path through. Most of the bad guys in these movies were expendable – Damian is not, and that makes him one of the most compelling characters so far in this franchise.
I feel like I’m doing a serious disservice to the women of Creed III by waiting so long to talk about them, but Tessa Thompson gives us another great performance as Bianca. All she wants is for Adonis to let her in, and even after years of marriage, there are rooms in Adonis’ heart that Bianca is not allowed to enter, and while she loves him, her frustrations at that are testing her limits. Thompson’s Bianca isn’t just the wife figure here; she’s Adonis’ partner in every way, and she needs him as much as he needs her. Thompson’s great.
Also great is Mila Davis-Kent as Amara, who is deaf but takes after her father in ways that get her in trouble. She’s more than just an incorrigible child, however – Amara, to Adonis, is a way to set some wrongs right, to fill some childhood gaps in his own life, and I love their relationship in the movie.
Phylicia Rashad’s Mary-Anne Creed gets one scene that thoroughly knocked me down. It’s the kind of scene they build awards campaigns around. For many, it may be too much, but for me it was entirely fitting and a huge milestone in this series, an important moment, and Rashad plays the hell out of it. Her relationship with Adonis is surely tested this time, and I love the way Jordan builds the emotions to a crescendo.
If I were to rank the Creed films, I think this one’s better than the second but can’t quite reach the highs of the first. That’s fair – no one expected Creed to be as great as it was, but these films always were at their best when they had something to prove. Creed III has something to prove too – if it can be a viable continuation of this story without Sylvester Stallone, if Michael B. Jordan has what it takes as a director to helm this beloved franchise, and if this story can keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done, after all.
I don’t know what the future holds for this series, but what I do know for certain is that Michael B. Jordan is immensely talented and I hope to see more films directed by him – he has a cinematic eye and a sense of performance and style. As for Creed III – it’s a knockout and another terrific movie in a series full of them. I loved it.
CREED III REVIEW SCORE: 8.5 OUT OF 10
MGM’s United Artists Releasing will release the film on March 3, 2023. Creed III is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language.
Alan Cerny has been writing about film for more than 20 years, for such sites as Ain’t It Cool News, CHUD, Birth Movies Death, and ComingSoon. He is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society since 2011. STAR WARS biased. Steven Spielberg once called Alan a “very good writer” and Alan has the signed letter to prove it, so it must be true.