'Creed III' review: A feat of stamina for the enduring franchise 

Michael B. Jordan delivers both in front of and behind the camera for yet another winning entry in the “Rocky” franchise.
An image from "Creed III" is shown.
Posted at 9:27 PM, Mar 02, 2023

"Rocky" is the seminal film franchise of my childhood. Rocky Balboa feels like a member of the family; my siblings and I care that deeply about the character. So I continue to be impressed by how reliably solid the "Creed" movies are, with the newest entry — "Creed III" — being an excellent directorial debut from star Michael B. Jordan.

Jordan's Adonis "Donnie" Creed is now retired from boxing and running his own gym. His wife, Bianca (the always great Tessa Thompson) is focused on producing music, and their daughter, Amara (the scene-stealing Mila Davis-Kent) is now a precocious little girl who's taken arguably a little too much interest in her dad's former career. Donnie's mother, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad) resists leaving her home to move in with the family, but she's still ever-present.


Life is great! In a refreshing twist, Donnie isn't tormented by retirement; writers Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin and Ryan Coogler (who wrote and directed the first "Creed") don't fall into the easy trap of making the protagonist bored or listless because he's spending more time focused on family instead of work. That wouldn't be true to the character anyway.

But Donnie does have unfinished business he doesn't yet realize, when someone from his past asserts himself into this blissful retirement. Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) was a like an older friend/brother/mentor to Adonis when they were teenagers, but is now just out of prison and wants the shot at success in the ring he feels he never got, but that Donnie did. 

There are plenty of painful memories and raw emotion to unpack there, and the fact I'm going to nitpick some of the movie's heavy-handedness is a testament to how good it is. In the third film of this spinoff, the ninth (!) overall of the "Rocky" franchise, my main knock against what's still, on paper, essentially a crowd-pleasing sports movie is that some of the dialogue is too obvious and paint-by-numbers. 

Regardless of that ultimately minor quibble, the drama pays off, because this series has invested so much into making these characters feel as real as possible. "Creed III" doesn't work nearly as well if its predecessors don't lay the groundwork of Donnie's arc that takes him to this point in life where he can't move forward unless he confronts a hurtful chapter of his past. That's human, that's impactful, and Michael B. Jordan at this point slips into the character's nuances so well it's unsurprising he could also seamlessly focus his attention on directing. 


Jordan makes use of the "Rocky" sports movie formula (after all, why fix what isn't broken) while putting his own distinct touches on the film. He takes a big stylistic swing during the climax, and while I didn't find it totally effective, I appreciated the effort, especially considering he's trying something different after we've seen pretty much the same exact thing be done one way, eight times before. That said, he also delivers what I consider the best training montage outside of "Heart's on Fire" from "Rocky IV," and the fight sequences are just as edge-of-your-seat intense as ever.  

I've gotten this far into the review without even mentioning this is the first "Rocky" movie without Rocky. That, again, is a testament to how well "Creed III" works. I'd love for Sylvester Stallone to play the character forever, and I will complain to anyone who'll listen that Sly should've won an Oscar for his work in the first "Creed," but at no point did it feel like something or someone was missing here. It helps when the talented supporting cast includes Thompson, Rashad, and Wood Harris as trainer Tony Burton, plus the addition of Majors, who is every bit as good as advertised.

"Creed III" hints at one possible direction the series could go in, and Jordan has already said there's more to come. As clean and satisfying of a conclusion this could be for the trilogy, I start to worry about the franchise overstaying its welcome. Then I remind myself how capable of hands it's in, and how it has improbably never failed me before … except for "Rocky V"; that's the one we don't talk about.