Those who retire at an early age have a considerable advantage over those who need to keep working for many years. They have time to find their passions and to indulge in whatever luxuries they may not have previously been able to afford with plenty of time to enjoy them. But they may also encounter a loss of purpose, no longer caught up in the excitement of a career and the need to put all of themselves into one thing. For athletes, that’s particularly true, and the chance to get back on the field or in the ring may be too tempting to pass up, as it proves to be for the title character in the newest sequel in the Rocky universe, Creed III.
Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is on top of the world, having built a successful business empire out of his boxing studio and the proud bearer of many titles. He now takes time to spend with his daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), support the music career of his beloved Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and to take care of his mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), whose health is in decline. But he finds himself pulled back to his old world with the reemergence of his childhood friend Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), who has spent years in prison and now expects Adonis to help give him a shot at a championship title of his own.
Creed III represents an important graduation of sorts for this spinoff franchise, and by all accounts, it passes the test. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is nowhere to be found, and even though the character is mentioned, this is purely Adonis’ story that he gets to own. In that vein, Jordan also makes the impressive leap to a role behind the camera with his feature directorial debut. Jordan is clearly at home with this story and this character, and that comfort and intimacy shows in the way that he guides the camera and frames the action.
There is a long history in the series this film belongs to of old relationships coming back to haunt protagonists and the need to literally get back into the ring to deal with them. That tendency creates the perfect opportunity for Damian to show up and remind Adonis of what could have happened if his life had gone down a different path, and to represent all of the resentment that someone like Damian feels given that he had to experience another fate. That storyline isn’t exactly contrived, but there’s little mystery about where it will go and the somewhat questionable circumstances under which things all fall into place. The well-choreographed and intense fight scenes mostly make up for any plot holes.
2023 is most definitely the year of Jonathan Majors. Following his breakthrough role in The Last Black Man in San Francisco in 2019 and a leading part in the HBO series Lovecraft Country, Majors has now delivered three knockout performances in less than three months of the new year. Portraying Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania showed that he’s more than capable of being the next big Marvel Cinematic Universe villain, and he tapped into something even more terrifying as an obsessed and delusional bodybuilder in Magazine Dreams, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released soon by Searchlight Pictures. His performance as Damian is more fine-tuned but equally compelling, revealing someone who knows exactly what he wants and who is more than ready to do anything he must in order to achieve it.
The scenes that feature Jordan and Majors going head-to-head and reflecting on the complexity of their friendship are among the film’s most compelling. Jordan is comfortable in this role, which doesn’t ask as much of him as the first two films did. Similarly, the dependable Thompson has less to do, while Davis-Kent, in her film debut, is memorable and entertaining as Amara, who could well have a more substantial role in this franchise’s future. While a fourth installment has yet to be officially greenlit, it’s all but guaranteed to come, and this film, while hardly vital or groundbreaking, shows that Adonis and his family can deliver just fine on any occasion.
Creed III opens in theaters Friday, March 3rd.