Creed III doesn’t stray far from the formula that the original Rocky established in 1976. Echoes can also be found behind the scenes. Just as Sylvester Stallone stepped up as a director for Rocky III, Michael B. Jordan takes the helm for Adonis Creed’s third round. For all the familiarity, Creed III takes several chances that pay off. While Stallone remains a producer, this is the first film set in the Rocky universe without Mr. Balboa. The dynamic between Rocky and Donnie was the driving force behind the previous Creed movies. Although Rocky’s absence is felt here, he’s not integral to this Donnie-centric story. If Jordan intended to prove that Donnie can fly without Rocky, he more than makes his case with Creed III.
Donnie is ready to retire, trading his gloves for a suit. Between training other boxers and arranging fights, Donnie enjoys the high life with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). As charming as these scenes are, Creed’s idyllic life can’t sustain the full runtime. A blast from the past comes back to haunt Donnie in the form of Jonathan Majors’ Damian Anderson. When they were kids, Dame seemed destined to be the champ while Donnie was grateful just to carry his bag. After Donnie inadvertently attracts the police, Damian winds up behind bars. Feeling guilty, Donnie gives Dame his shot at the title. Prison has changed Dame, however.
As strong as the first two Creed movies were, they fell short in the opponent department. You rarely felt the animosity brewing between Donnie and “Pretty” Ricky Conlan. Although Creed II provided a redemption arc for Ivan Drago, his son Viktor left something to be desired. Creed III finally delivers a knockout of an antagonist with Dame. Weeks after going up against Ant-Man and the Wasp, Majors steals the show again as a villain with layers. Although the audience can tell from the get-go that something is off about Dame, Majors keeps us guessing. In a flash, Dame can go from somebody you want to be buddies with to an SOB you want to punch. This makes for a legitimately compelling rivalry backed by ego and vengeance. And yet, there still may be hope for their friendship.
While Majors breathes new life into the formula, Creed III nonetheless hits the beats that you’d expect. Naturally, there’s going to be at least one fight where our hero suffers a blow, another fight where he seeks redemption, a scene where an older character endures a health scare, a scene where the love interest encourages her man to fight, and, of course, a training montage. Although these are all technically clichés, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love them. And be honest, you love them too. As long as these tropes are well executed, it’s hard to complain.
Majors may be the MVP, but this is just as much Jordan’s movie. Not only does Jordan prove himself to be a capable director, but Donnie has come into his own. While one can only hope that he’ll reunite with Rocky at least one more time, Donnie can carry the weight of the franchise on his shoulders alone going forward. When the time inevitably comes for Donnie to pass the torch, though, here’s hoping that his daughter gets a shot. She may be adorable, but she packs a powerful punch.