Creed III sees Michael B. Jordan (and Adonis Creed) step out of Rocky’s shadow

Michael B. Jordan steps back into the ring (and behind the camera for the first time), going toe-to-toe with Jonathan Majors in Creed III, the latest instalment of the Rocky legacy sequel/spinoff franchise. The threequel proves again what a charismatic and watchful performer Michael B. Jordan has become and what a talent he could be as a director, says David Michael Brown.

Against all the odds, the Rocky saga continues… without Rocky. Under the steady gloved hands of Michael B. Jordan, taking over as director and continuing to play Adonis Creed on screen, the Rocky spin-off ditches much of the legacy that helped make it a success to tell an emotion-drenched blow-by-blow tale of personal retribution, complete with battling underdogs, superhuman feats of endurance and gratuitous training montages.

Creed III sees Jordan and Creed step out of the shadow of the missing-in-action Italian Stallion, both physically and metaphorically. In the first two Creed films, Rocky Balboa’s presence was keenly felt, not only as a point of connection to win over the spin-off nostalgic fanbase but as an emotional lynchpin to parallel the young Adonis Creed’s fight to step into the ring as Balboa battled cancer.

The spirit of Rocky and Apollo Creed (memorably played by Carl Weathers in the first four Rocky movies) certainly colours every sweaty pore of the Creed story but Stallone’s absence in Creed III is a big hole to fill. While the return of Tessa Thompson as Creed’s wife Bianca, Phylicia Rashad as his mother and Wood Harris as his trainer Tony “Little Duke” Burton lend familiarity and continuity, not having Rocky in Creed’s corner, for whatever reason, could have seen Creed III on the ropes in the early rounds.

Thankfully dropping Stallone’s idea that the film should feature the son of Clubber Lang (Mr. T) from Rocky III (1982) as Creed’s adversary, Creed III also takes a step away from the stunt plotting of the sophomore Creed film that saw Dolph Lundgren’s return as mono-syllabic Russian bone-breaker Ivan Drago from the jingoistic star spangled Rocky IV (1985), now training his son to take on a vengeful Creed. It was a nod to the cartoon creation that Rocky had become, especially when a cameoing Bridgette Nielsen glowered in the ringside seats.

In the threequel, Jonathan Majors dominates every scene he is in as the prime antagonist. His muscular frame imposes in a way that his much-ballyhooed new “big bad” turn in this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania never did. He plays Damian Anderson, a literal blast from Adonis Creed’s past, who now wants payback for the 18 years he has spent in prison. As youngsters, Adonis and boxing prodigy “Dame” were inseparable until a fateful moment saw Adonis’s gun-brandishing friend arrested by the police. With almost two decades to ruminate and rage on the past, the incarcerated brawler has a score to settle and wants the life that Creed has created for himself for his own.

Making his directorial debut, Jordan handles the action in and out of the ring with aplomb. The boxing matches are bloody and brutal, the frenetic camera zooming in on every painful body blow dished out by the pugilistic players. Heavily influenced by the anime Dragon Ball Z, the visual flamboyance adds to the gladiatorial spectacle, especially during the final World Championship bout between Creed and “Diamond Dame” when the screaming crowds fade into the background to highlight how personal this bitter feud has become.

Creed III packs a winning punch, proving again what a charismatic and watchful performer Michael B. Jordan has become and what a talent he could be as a director in the future. And by shedding the hard-fought heritage of Rocky, Creed’s longevity is ensured.