Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 2nd, 2023
Creed III (Michael B. Jordan, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
All hail Jonathan Majors, one of the premier actors of the millennial generation. Ever since he wowed us through his supporting turn in 2019’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, he has pulled the spectator’s gaze inexorably towards him. Fresh off his role as antagonist Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Majors joins star and director (making his debut in that role) Michael B. Jordan in the third film of the Creed series. Jordan returns as the lead, Adonis Creed, with Tessa Thompson once more by his side as wife Bianca. All three make a formidable trio, joined by a winning Mila Davis-Kent as the couple’s daughter, Amara. Phylicia Rashad is also back as step-mother Mary-Anne. It’s a fine family reunion, with Majors raising the dramatic stakes to keep the franchise from going stale. And the best part is that the series finally breaks away from its Rocky legacy, with nary a Balboa in sight.
The movie begins in 2002, with young Adonis (Thaddeus J. Mixson)—or “Donnie’—only recently brought to live with Mary-Anne, father Apollo Creed’s widow. His best friend from the children’s home where they started out, Damian (Spence Moore II)—or “Dame”—comes by and the two sneak off for a night of fun; Dame will box and Donnie will watch, Unfortunately, on the way home, they run across a man who abused them when they were younger, and trouble ensues. We won’t know the full aftermath until later.
Cut to 15 years later, and Creed earning a knockout victory in the final match of his career, thereby retiring as champ. We once again jump forwards, this time to present-day retirement, with Creed living a life of Hollywood Hills luxury, a doting father and loving husband. Bianca has made a switch, too, mostly giving up performing to focus on music producing, instead, her own progressive hearing loss a factor. Amara is completely deaf, so they often communicate in sign language. They’re a happy bunch, with Grandma Mary-Anne over frequently, despite a recent stroke.
Down at his gym, Creed manages a new boxer (and current heavyweight champion), Felix Chavez (real-life fighter Jose Benavidez), who works with Creed’s old trainer, Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton (Wood Harris, reprising the role). Just as they are planning Chavez’s next move, however, a ghost from the past shows up, in the form of the adult Dame (Majors), fresh out of prison. We’ll learn why he went to jail later, and how it relates to Creed, but for now Dame is all humble pie, eager to reconnect.
What he really desires, though, is to box again. All sinewy muscle, and insisting that he kept up his training while in the pen, he wants a shot at the career he never had, despite being well into his 30s. Not possible, says Creed, though events will conspire to make Dame’s dream very much a reality. Before long, the two old friends find themselves on opposite sides of a brutal story of vengeance and comeuppance, Creed forced to don the gloves again to face Dame in the ring.
Jordan is his usual excellent self, also showing great competence behind the camera, but this is Majors’ film from the time he shows up. Lending enormous complexity to an often-unlikable character, he moves in front of the lens with grace and power. It’s a great matchup, even if the script sometimes devolves into genre clichés and excess sentimentality. The outcome may never be in doubt, but there are moving dramatic surprises, throughout. It’s not a KO, but a definite win, by unanimous decision.