What to Watch Verdict
Michael B. Jordan brings some new tricks to the boxing sequences, but the drama outside the ring is unfulfilling.
Jordan shows some directorial flare in boxing sequences
Jonathan Majors continues his strong year
The emotional beats feel underdeveloped
Maybe one trick too many in final fight
The torch is officially passed between the Rocky and Creed franchises, as Creed III sees Michael B. Jordan fully take the reins not only as the star but as the director, following in his former co-star Sylvester Stallone's footsteps. With no Stallone/Rocky crutch, Creed III is a serviceable continuation of the boxing franchise, as Jordan shows some flare with the sequences inside the ring. But problems lie in the underdeveloped and unfulfilling drama outside of it.
Creed III picks up as Donnie (Jordan) has decided to retire after a career that saw him become the unified heavyweight champion of the world. He now mentors and promotes young fighters with his long-time trainer Duke (Wood Harris), while enjoying more time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). But Donnie's troubled past comes back to haunt him when his old friend Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) gets out of prison after nearly two decades and wants a shot at the heavyweight crown. Donnie tries to help, but he soon realizes Damian goes about things his own way, driving a wedge between them that can only be settled with a fight.
Let's start with the fights. If you ask most movie fans what's the first thing they recall about the Rocky/Creed franchises, it's going to be that and the training montages. From "Gonna Fly Now" and the blistering sound of the punches of the early movies to the incredible one-shot fight in Ryan Coogler's Creed, it's been a franchise calling card. Jordan adds to that with some unique choices of his own, including putting us more inside the mind of the fighters in a way we haven't seen before. For what it's worth, he also pretty much nails the training montage. If we have one quibble, a surreal choice in the climatic final fight doesn't entirely work, but its intention is clear as it represents all the emotions between Donnie and Damian.
The bigger problem is the rest of the movie doesn't get that message across quite as well. Donnie's arc involves him coming to terms with how his past choices have impacted Damian, but his relationship with Damian is muddled from the start, even before he more clearly becomes the antagonist. As for Damian, the character's position as the villain goes back and forth like a pendulum; part of that is supposed to be intentional, but that back and forth isn't always satisfying.
The rest of the drama is underdeveloped. Bianca's regrets about having to give up performing and Mary-Anne's (Phylicia Rashad) stance on Damian are key subplots that aren't fleshed out enough to have the desired impact. An exception is Donnie's relationship with Amara, who he connects with as he teaches her to box.
None of this falls on the performers, who are all solid. Jordan makes Donnie an easy hero to root for. Thompson is as solid as always, even if Bianca is given a little less to do. Majors, meanwhile, continues his strong year following Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and the Sundance hit Magazine Dreams with another roaring villain performance.
It should also be noted that Creed III is not missing Rocky. After Stallone's character got a fitting sendoff in Creed II, there's no sense he is needed to guide the ship anymore. He still gets a mention here or there, but the Creed franchise has established its own footing and gets to make a number of call backs on its own legacy, including Creed opponents Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) and Leo Sporino, and Creed II big bad Victor Drago (Florian Munteanu). If the Creed franchise were to continue, it can do so firmly on its own.
Ignoring the future and getting back to this specific entry, Creed III checks off the basics you want from the franchise — an imposing and intriguing villain, with training and fight sequences that will get you cheering. Michael B. Jordan shows promise as a young director. But it fails to do what the best of the franchise (the original Rocky and Creed) did. In those movies, Rocky and Donnie lost, but when the bell rings we couldn't care less because their journeys were what mattered. Despite its best efforts, Creed III doesn't make you care enough about the people in the ring, making the knockout blow ring hollow.
Creed III releases in movie theaters on March 3.
Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd (opens in new tab).
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