Creed 3 Packs a Strong Punch as It Finally Steps Out of Rocky's Shadow

Creed 3 packs a strong punch with a new, original story and excellent direction from Michael B. Jordan that lets it stand on its own, away from the shadow of the Rocky franchise.

It took three movies, but Adonis Creed is finally out of Rocky and Apollo’s shadow, free to carve out his own legacy by fighting his personal demons in Creed 3. The third film in the Rocky spinoff franchise and the first not to feature the Italian Stallion himself, Creed 3 manages to stand out on its own with an excellent directorial debut by leading man Michael B. Jordan.

Opening with a fairly expansive flashback, we get introduced to Creed’s childhood friend Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors), who, it turns out, was a big inspiration for Adonis to get into boxing in the first place. In an unfortunate altercation with law enforcement, Damian gets captured as Adonis flees the scene, setting the stage for this revenge tale.

Fast forward to the modern day, and Creed is now living the high life, having retired from boxing a few years prior. Training the new generation of fighters at the Delphi academy, Creed happily serves as the family man, but peace never lasts for long in these movies. Freshly out of prison, Dame asks Creed to give him a shot in the ring. Initially hesitant, Creed finally gives in, and that’s where the film kicks in.

The Rocky films, and by extension, the Creed franchise, have always played by a winning formula. That makes most of these films predictable, but that doesn’t have to be bad as they almost always deliver on what people watch them for — good old-fashioned sports spectacle. Watching this on a giant IMAX screen is incredible, and Jordan’s use of the expanded format is commendable. While the fights go about as expected, there’s a visceral nature to them brought by Majors that far eclipses what’s happening on the surface. While it sticks to fairly traditional coverage in the expository scenes, Jordan always gets to the point with no scene feeling unnecessary.

Going personal for the story was the right choice, with Majors and Jordan’s on-screen rivalry being palpable like it wasn’t just made up for this third film. While it is the first film in the series not to feature Stallone’s Rocky, I never felt his absence due to the strong foundation laid by the previous entries. It lets the story focus squarely on Adonis and Dame, with predictable but entertaining exchanges to fill in the gaps.

All of it leads to a glorious but safe fight that may or may not leave the door open for more films, but I do have to wonder if it might be time to close the book on this. At this point, Creed has earned, lost, retained, and retired the world heavyweight champion title so many times it’s becoming mundane. Sure, a lot of that is offset by the personal in-fighting that Dame brings to the table, but one has to wonder if playing by the same playbook is getting too stale. The final fight shows that the team still has some new tricks up its sleeves, taking cues from classics like Raging Bull with interesting blocking, playing way more into the personal angle than the previous films.

When it’s not dealing with punches inside the ring, Creed 3, as is tradition for the larger franchise, focuses on laying the foundation for the next generation with Amara, Creed and Bianca’s daughter. Pairing her social issues with Creed’s anger management works well, though it’s not as strong as the arc the pair shared in the previous film. That said, there’s enough sincerity in the relationship that I can’t complain.

With Creed 3, Jordan has established a strong foundation for telling different stories from his point of view. It doesn’t quite have the slick presentation that Ryan Coogler brought with his long takes (along with personifying Philly) in the first film, but it delivers where it matters — big-screen entertainment.

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