I know. I’m a sucker for boxing movies.
Especially those in the ROCKY movie universe.
And so I enjoyed CREED III (2023), the third film in the CREED series, and the ninth film in the ROCKY universe, and not just because I’m a sucker for these movies. It’s a pretty darn good movie in its own right. That being said, it’s also the ninth movie in a series, and so one knock against the film is it is exceedingly predictable.
CREED III is the first movie in the ROCKY movie world not to feature Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, and the movie is strong enough to keep Rocky from being missed. But it does feature Michael B. Jordan once again in the lead role as Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, who was Rocky’s first opponent in the first ROCKY movie back in 1976. Apollo and Rocky eventually become best friends, but then Apollo was killed in the ring in ROCKY IV (1985) by Soviet fighter Ivan Drago. In CREED II (2018), Adonis defeats Drago’s son in a title match that was very personal for Adonis, as he was fighting for his deceased father.
Jordan has been excellent in all three CREED movies, and here he works behind the camera as well for the first time, as he makes his directorial debut with CREED III. And in what is probably the best part of the movie, he is joined in the cast by Jonathan Majors who plays Adonis’ childhood friend and now opponent, Damian Anderson. Jordan and Majors are two of the more dynamic actors working today, and their combined presence in this movie lifts it to a higher level.
In CREED III, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has retired from boxing, going out on top as heavyweight champion, his thinking being to step away from the sport to enjoy his life with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Adonis also runs the local gym with his former trainer Stitch (Jacob “Stitch” Duran), where they train and represent the current champion Felix Chavez (Jose Benvidez). Life is good.
But things change when Adonis’ childhood best buddy Damian (Jonathan Majors) shows up at the gym, having just been released from prison, where he has spent the past eighteen years of his life. When they were kids, they both boxed, and Damian was the better of the two and as a teenager was already considered a boxer with high promise. But prison changed all that. While Adonis offers to help Damian any way he can, Damian makes it clear he wants only one thing: a shot at the title, a shot he says he was denied because of his prison sentence.
Adonis tells him that’s impossible, as he’s not even a pro, but Damian reminds him that one, Adonis himself got the title shot by unconventional means, and two, his own father Apollo, gave a nobody fighter named Rocky Balboa a title shot out of nowhere. Adonis can’t deny that this is true, and he begins to be open to the possibility. Making things even more complicated, and driving Adonis to help Damian, is the fact that he is plagued by tremendous guilt. He was there the night Damian was arrested, and he too, was involved. But only Damain got caught. And Adonis, wanting to forget that traumatic chapter in his life, never reached out to Damian.
When a freak accident injures Felix Chavez’s next opponent, Adonis suggests that he fight Damian instead. He tells Felix to do his job, and if he wipes the floor with the much older Damian, so be it. And he is also doing right by his friend, Damian, by giving him his much sought after title shot.
Of course, as expected, Damian shocks the boxing world and wins, and amid some more revelations, becomes somewhat less of an admirable person, publicly taunting and insulting Adonis, who realizes there is only one true way to shut his friend up and restore his own honor, which is to get back into the boxing ring and take on his former friend.
As stories go, as I said, the one told in CREED III is pretty predictable. There are no surprises. The screenplay by Keenan Coogler, Ryan Coogler, and Zach Baylin offers a by-the-numbers boxing story. You know who is going to win every time. But on the plus side, away from the boxing elements, the personal story of Adonis and Damian’s friendship is well-done and is the best part of the movie, and it’s well-acted by two phenomenal actors, Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors. Adonis is burdened by heavy guilt, and rightly so. He ran away and let his friend get arrested. Other characters in the story continually tell Adonis that he’s not a bad person, that he can’t be held accountable for decisions made before he was an adult, which is true, but it’s a bitter pill for Adonis himself to swallow. He knows what he did, or in this case, didn’t do.
This part of the story works well, not only because it is well-written and well-acted, but because in this ninth movie in the ROCKY universe, it’s pretty darn refreshing! It’s new territory! But sadly, the boxing parts aren’t refreshing at all. The movie doesn’t make any bold decisions in that department. Which is too bad because the ROCKY series began with a bold choice. It’s easy to forget that in the first ROCKY, Rocky lost, and what he takes away from that title bout was that he stood toe to toe with the champion for fifteen rounds. But he lost.
Zach Baylin also wrote the screenplay for the much-heralded KING RICHARD (2021).
The other strength on display here are the two performances by Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors. Jordan has been excellent as Adonis Creed in all three CREED movies, and he’s very good here yet again. Jordan is a fun actor to watch. He exudes sincerity, intensity, and authenticity.
We just saw Jonathan Majors as the villain Kang the Conqueror in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA (2023), a role he’s set to reprise in the upcoming AVENGERS movies. Majors has also made impressions in the movies THE HARDER THEY FALL (2021) and DA 5 BLOODS (2020). He’s formidable here as Damian, and he and Jordan interact well together. They share many fine moments in the movie, and one of the best moments is their conversation after their title bout at the end of the movie.
Tessa Thompson plays Bianca Creed for the third time, and she’s fine once again, although the movie largely focuses on Adonis and Damian. Young Mila Davis-Kent is excellent as Adonis’ and Bianca’s deaf daughter, Amara.
As a director, Michael B. Jordan acquits himself well. The boxing sequences, as predictable as they are, are well done. In fact, he gets metaphorical during the final bout between Adonis and Damian, as at one point we see them fighting in a giant cage inside a cold empty nightmarish stadium. The imagery here works really well. Jordan also makes the wise decision to keep this one from being overlong, as it clocks in at just under two hours. These days when so many movies are unnecessarily pushing the three-hour mark, Jordan’s decision to keep this movie at a respectable length is a good one.
In terms of the three CREED movies, the first one CREED (2015) remains the best, but CREED III is better than CREED II (2018), and so CREED III ranks in the middle of the Adonis Creed trilogy.
Overall, CREED III is a very good movie featuring two strong performances by two very talented actors, Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors and a decent storyline involving two childhood friends who square off against each other in the ring as adults. The only thing preventing this from being a knockout is its predictability.
Before you sit down to watch this one, you probably have a good idea as to who is going to win the fights in this movie.
And you’d be right.
I give CREED III a solid yet unsurprising three stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful