The Rocky Balboa film franchise has been the staple of cinema and pop culture ever since the first Rocky film was released in theaters in 1976. Surrounding the story of a young loan shark/down-on-his-luck boxer named Rocky Balboa, it told the story of an underdog overcoming the odds and eventually going the distance and achieving greatness. After a plethora of sequels that led to positive to more mixed (and sometimes downright negative) reception, the series was shelved after 2006’s Rocky Balboa. However, the franchise saw new life after a spinoff surrounding Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son Adonis Creed. This spawned a new trilogy aptly named Creed.
After defeating his rival Ricky Conlan (played by real world boxer Tony Bellew), Adonis Creed (played by Michael B. Jordan) retires from the sport of boxing as the heavyweight champion of the world. Deciding to focus on helping Little Duke (played by Wood Harris) train the next generation of boxers in addition to setting up a fight between Felix Chavez (played by real world boxer Jose Benavidez) and Viktor Drago (played by Florian Munteanu). Adonis runs into his old childhood friend, Damien Anderson (played by Jonathan Majors). The two catch up with Damien wanting to become a pro boxer despite spending most of his life in prison. Creed is reluctantly supportive and invites Damien over to spar at the gym. A sparring match goes out of hand, and Duke wants Damien out, despite Adonis’ protests. Creed later invites Damien to his house for dinner, where he reveals that he wants a title shot. Creed tells him it’s impossible, but substitutes Damien after Drago drops out due to an injury. Damien brutally KO’s Felix Chavez and becomes the new champion. After the win, Damien begins slandering Creed’s name, prompting Creed to eventually challenge him in the ring.
The Creed films have followed a similar structure to the previous Rocky films. Both tell the story of an up-and-coming boxer trying to make a name for themselves while dealing with deep personal issues. However, the Creed films maintain their own identity as opposed to just riding of the coat tails of its predecessor. Adonis Creed struggles to come to terms with his name, as he wants to be his own fighter rather than live in the shadow of his father. The second film had Creed tie up loose ends with Ivan Drago and the death of Apollo by having Creed fight Viktor Drago that acts as more of a love letter to Rocky IV. However, none quite come close to Creed III.
Creed III marks Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut. Not only is Jordan a phenomenal actor, he is an exceptional director as well! The film is gripping from beginning to end, making sure you care about every character, no matter how major or minor. I especially love the close up shots of the fighters’ faces right before they box in addition to focusing on the names embroidered on their shorts to build tension and better sell the fights themselves. I think this creative decision may have been slightly inspired by Shonen anime fight scenes and how they often focus on these small details before the fight begins, since Michael B. Jordan is also a huge fan of anime, even sneaking in a Naruto poster in a young Adonis’ room.
However, my favorite scene has to be the climactic showdown between Adonis and Damien. The final fight was shot so masterfully, seamlessly meshing the real fight with the mental fight the two are having in a way that almost made me believe was directed by Jordan Peele! Not to mention, this is the only film that goes into extensive background on Adonis’ childhood growing up in group homes and the unresolved baggage that followed him into adulthood. Part of that baggage includes Adonis’ brother in arms, Damien Anderson.
Damien bears a strong resemblance to several past Rocky characters with Clubber Lang, Tommy Gunn and even a bit of Adonis. Much like Lang, Damien was hungry for the world title and trained constantly to keep himself sharp in addition to using taunts to gain an edge on his opponents. Additionally, his drive in boxing comes from hatred much like Tommy Gunn, specifically hatred for being abandoned by Adonis when they were younger. And like both characters, Damien’s fighting style mostly consists of powerful and fast punches overwhelm his opponents. Damien could also represent Adonis had he gone down a darker path and didn’t have a supportive group of friends and loved ones to help him.
Upon his release from prison, Damien bore a chip on his shoulder, thinking that Adonis is living the life that he deserved for himself. He confronts Adonis manipulating Adonis’ guilt to give him a second chance and eventually utilizing underhanded tactics to give himself a title shot, much like how Terry Silver got to Daniel in both The Karate Kid 3 and Cobra Kai. Jonathan Majors once again delivers a heavily nuanced performance as the bitter, angry and hungry Damien. Every scene with Damien present feels tense and every subtle change in his facial expression and vocal tone keeps you guessing what his next course of action is going to be. Out of all of Adonis Creed’s antagonists, Damien truly feels like a threat. While Viktor Drago physically broke Creed, Damien mentally broke him merely by existing, as he was a part of Creed that he desperately tried to forget.
One other aspect that the Rocky franchise tackles and supports is the presence of healthy masculinity. We see that as while Rocky is a tenacious boxer in the ring, he is kind, sensitive and empathetic towards those he loves. Creed on the other hand, has to learn how to open up about his feelings to both his wife Bianca and his mother Mary Anne. Throughout Creed III, Adonis struggles to talk about his troubled past to Bianca, rather takes part in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking and destroying his property. He views boxing as an outlet for his aggression until after watching Damien’s first fight he realizes that he was wrong and begins to teach his daughter Amara that boxing is more about control rather than aggression.
But besides the characterizations, performances and themes, what many fans cam e for are the fight scenes and training montages. And while this film is lighter on the training montages compared to previous entries, it more than makes up for it in the fight choreography. Unlike the previous Creed films, Creed III utilizes mostly medium to close up shots during the boxing scenes. While this usually spells doom for fight scenes, Creed III makes sure not to use shaky cam and quick cuts, rather letting the camera move naturally while keeping it close to allow audiences to view the fight as it’s unfolding. Much like how the Rocky films depict every fighter as distinct and different from one another, Creed III goes out of its way to sow just how each fighter fights. For example, Adonis has a technical and flashy style, while Damien has a much more raw, unpolished and brutal style.
Creed III is not only a solid addition to the Rocky franchise and follow up to the second Creed film, but it is a wonderful standalone film in its own right. When it was first announced that Sylvester Stallone would not be acting in the film, many including myself were skeptical on whether the film would succeed or not. But I think it works perfectly without him, as this is Adonis Creed’s story after all and the third film acts as his transition from the Rocky Era to the Creed Era. Full of breathtakingly beautiful cinematography and fight choreography in addition to a tight-knit story, powerful acting and well-written characters, Creed III proves to be the best of the Creed trilogy!