Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Michael B. Jordan squares up for a third round in the ring as Adonis Creed in the aptly titled, Creed III. Not only does Jordan star as the lead, but he also steps behind the director’s chair for the very first time! Unlike the first two installments in this Rocky spin-off trilogy, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa does not return as Creed’s mentor. The hole of his absence is filled by new addition Jonathan Majors, who adds a swagger and intensity to the proceedings that elevates the movie far above Creed II. For fans of the franchise, Creed III represents a fitting conclusion that pits Adonis against his greatest rival to date.

Like any good trilogy, Creed III goes back to the past.  In this case, that means the L.A. of 2002. Impressive casting ensures counterparts for Adonis and Damian are spot-on to their adult iterations. Young Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson (Spence Moore III) competes for the regional Golden Gloves championship, his best friend, teenage Adonis Creed (Thaddeus J. Mixson), tagging along for the ride. Over the course of one night, both of their lives will be changed forever with one knockout punch. The introduction plays with what we already know about Adonis from the original Creed. He was troubled as a youth and constantly trying to get out from under the shadow of his father. Damian just so happens to be a major catalyst for the trajectory of Adonis’s dream, and eventual self-realization of becoming a professional boxer.

In present day, Adonis appears to have hung up the proverbial belt for good, content with “heavyweight champion of the world” legacy title. His days consist of public appearances at the family-owned gym, cheering on his wife, Bianca (Tess Thompson), who now produces music, and froggy tea parties with his adorable deaf daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). Adonis prepares to take his biggest swing in quite some time, as his prized new fighter Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) is only weeks away from facing off against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). On most accounts, Adonis Creed is truly living the life he never could have guessed he would have in his wildest dreams. 

What better way to inject conflict than diving into the well of the past? After spending a whopping eighteen years in the slammer, Damian (Jonathan Majors) shows up for retribution and reconciliation. Adonis’s old friend wants more than just rekindling their brotherly connection—Damian makes it very known just how interested he is in picking up exactly where he left off. The two have not spoken at all while he was locked up, and yet Adonis feels inextricably linked to Damian. Adonis’s actions on the night Damian was locked up continue to weigh heavy over him—with a story by Ryan Coogler, these two characters are seamlessly weaved into one another. They make up the core of Creed III, and also serve as a unique sort of juxtaposition that flips the script on typical Rocky formula. We still end up with an underdog versus an established name, but with a bit of a twist. 

Damian initially seems warm and sweet towards Adonis and his family; he meets Amara and Bianca with a doofy, aww-shucks smile that is instantly endearing. Adonis misses red flags, like Damian seeming to hint that he thinks Adonis is “domesticated,” or the mentioning of letters that Adonis has never received. Little Duke (Wood Harris) though seems to see right through Damian from the start, straight to the fiery anger bubbling just underneath the surface. Duke never wants to give Damian a chance in the ring, but does reluctantly agree to at least let him help train Chavez. Damian fights as if his life depends on it, throwing his full strength into each blow. In every second of Jonathan Majors’s masterful performance, Damian’s complexities writhe and snarl to the surface. Furthermore, the character’s actions constantly leave the viewer on edge.

Most of these movies have a particular formula when it comes to how they play out—Creed III is certainly no exception to that rule. Once Damian begins to find success at boxing, it feels inevitable that he will force Creed out of retirement. He’s not afraid to play dirty, so it comes as little surprise when they finally announced the “Battle for Los Angeles.” The film may be free of Rocky, but that doesn’t mean an uproarious training montage is out of the question, either. Jordan gifts us with a sequence overlooking the city of angels nearly as iconic as the Philadelphia steps of the original Rocky. A script from scribes Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin unapologetically embraces standard fighting cliches, then twists them to fit the Creed rulebook.

Bad blood between Damian and Adonis often overshadows the relationship Damian shares with Bianca and his daughter. However, there is plenty of room for all three relationships to grow and thrive during the film’s nearly two-hour runtime. When not trading blows, Adonis is just a conflicted, caring father who longs for more than twelve minutes to spend with his loving partner. While the family element is wonderful indeed, we all know the main event puts butts in seats. A supercharged beach confrontation may be the film’s acting highlight from Majors, but it’s the Creed Vs. Dame brawl that will have everyone talking.

Jordan utilizes slow-motion to impressive effect. Brutal punches leave their mark in bloody, teeth-spitting grit. Filmmaking style in the fight sequences particularly feels very on-brand for those previous two movies, maintaining the necessary consistency one longs to see from a film series. How can one look away when the fights themselves are so captivating? Spilling over with crowd-pleasing moments of joy, Creed III is a wonderful ode to the Rocky films of the past that respects legacy, and brings on a major key player in style.

The Creed legacy lives on when Creed III bows exclusively in theaters on Friday, March 3rd.

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