Friday, February 24, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Or: The One Without Rocky

Ryan Coogler’s Creed shouldn’t really work, should it? Sure, a sequel to Rocky — even one in which he takes on a protégé — isn’t exactly a cinematic aberration, but Coogler’s 2015 soft reboot did more than just throw fresh paint on an old formula; it redefined the series’ signature underdog narrative, following a fighter raised in privilege rather than one bleeding on the edge of society. We should resent Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) for his arrogance and presumption — and, to be fair, we often do — but Coogler and co-writer Aaron Covington so thoroughly endear us to his relentless pursuit of pride and purpose that we can’t help but cheer when Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) embraces the orphan as a son of his own. Creed II (2018) built on this theme, pitting Donnie against the son of his father’s killer (Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago) to explore the complex dynamics of legacy and amp up the stakes for his own impending fatherhood. Donnie earns peace, in the end, escaping his father’s shadow and the pain that once defined him.
Peace may have found Donnie — he’s settled into retired life with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) when Creed III begins — but his former group home roommate Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), fresh from an eighteen-year prison turn, insists that only a shot at a Heavyweight title will fulfill the destiny that was so cruelly snatched away from him. A guilt-ridden Donnie relents, staging a bout with his own protégé (Jose Benavidez as Felix Chavez) against the advice of business partner Little Duke Evers (Wood Harris, serving as a kind of Balboa surrogate). Dame’s a dirty fighter with a big mouth, though, and it’s not long before Donnie realizes that his old friend still harbors resentments over their shared past. As he laces up for one final fight, the former champ must also care for his ailing mother (Phylicia Rashad), shape his young daughter’s fighting instinct, and finally confront the trauma that he and Dame have carried since one night reshaped their lives forever.

It feels at first like standard-issue Rocky fare — series completists will notice thematic nods to Parts II-IV, in particular — but there’s such a fierce modernity to the music, style, and editing rhythms of the Creed brand that it never feels repetitive. First-time director Michael B. Jordan knows exactly which character buttons to press, emphasizing Donnie’s hold on the boxing throne while letting more than a little insecurity through the cracks, that same performative toughness that made both the actor and his character so compelling in the first film. Donnie and Bianca have developed into a powerful team, with Thompson — though frightfully underused here — vocalizing her Concerned Wife concerns with a grace and temperance that gives her partner the space to take his journey without sacrificing her own standards for dignity and respect. Amara’s hearing loss has also given the family a warm, private shorthand that comes in handy during moments of strife and makes their victories all the more intimate and satisfying.
Then there’s Jonathan Majors, debuting his second Hollywood blockbuster in as many weeks. His chip-shouldered “Diamond” Dame Anderson is buckets more charismatic than the pontificating Kang from the inert and tedious Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, giving Majors ample opportunity to develop a ferocious foil to Jordan’s more straightlaced protagonist. Dame has enough charm to win over an apprehensive Bianca but not so much that his eventual heel-turn makes it feel as though he was playing a trick on us. Dame is a good man, at heart, someone who articulates his pain through anger for lack of any other method. Eighteen years of prison — and seething bitterness over Donnie’s success — have left him hardened, but they haven’t rendered him irredeemable. That’s what gives the final fight a unique edge in the franchise pantheon: We don’t want Donnie to knock Dame out as much as we want them both to admit that they shouldn’t be fighting in the first place. We want them to help each other heal.
And so while Creed III never reaches the heights of the franchise’s best chapters, it certainly ranks as a worthy middle entry by adding new texture to its established archetypes and taking fresh approaches to its well-worn themes. Michael B. Jordan makes a persuasive case with his debut feature, especially in the training and fight scenes, the last of which he injects with an unexpected — but welcome — note of surrealism. The question now becomes this: How much further can we take the Creed series? Will Adonis age with the same wisdom and humility as his mentor? What advice will he have for young fighters, especially those who grew up without a silver spoon? Will Amara be the next generation? Or, like the original Creed, will we find a whole new angle to explore? It would be easy to say that I hope Jordan and Thompson quit while they’re ahead, but hell, 2006’s Rocky Balboa is my favorite of the original sequels, so who am I to say that the Creeds can’t light up movie screens for decades to come?

Creed III hits theaters on March 3rd.


  1. Looking forward to this one, especially as a big Majors fan. I highly recommend Lovecraft Country on HBO to people who haven't seen it (fantastic cast all around, but Majors is great in it).

    I know Michael B. Jordan said recently that Creed IV is pretty much confirmed so I guess we'll see where they go from here.

  2. I'll catch up to this eventually. When Creed came out, I said I needed to finish watching all the Rocky movies first before. But I got stalled at Rocky V, which I did finally watch recently. So now just Rocky Balboa to go. For a series I've enjoyed a lot (V less so), it's taking me forever to get through them. Like years. Too many movies, not enough time.