The Pitch: Seven years after Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) defeated Viktor Drago in the ring, he’s retiring from boxing as the World Heavyweight Champion, enjoying the opportunity to build up his business interests and spend time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and young daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). (Spoiler alert: Tea parties might be involved.)
But Donnie’s life gets more complicated when Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) comes back into his life — a childhood friend from Donnie’s days in the foster system, Dame was like an older brother to Donnie as well as a rising talent as a boxer. Unfortunately, a prison sentence took away Dame’s chance to make it big… and now that Dame’s out, he wants Donnie’s help in reclaiming his chance at glory — in fact, he might want more than Donnie’s help. He might want Donnie’s whole life.
Brother vs. Brother: The Creed films, as kicked off by Ryan Coogler’s still outstanding 2015 entry, stand out as a solid example of how to feed modern Hollywood’s desperate thirst for repackaging pre-existing IP while also finding room for innovation. Giving the franchise a young Black hero to root for, under the tutelage of an icon, proved to be a successful formula for the previous two films — now, though, it’s time for the character to truly take the lead.
One of the strongest aspects of the film proves to be its confidence in that area, with Dame and Donnie’s history giving their inevitable faceoff in the ring a necessary personal edge. The central conflict at the heart of Creed III is fed by the survivor’s guilt that comes with unlikely success, and it’s essential to making this film work: Screenwriters Keegan Coogler & Zach Baylin handle that element nimbly without playing too hard into old tropes, and Jordan and Majors bring nuance to the friendship-turned-rivalry. Dame might not be the most trustworthy or loyal friend, as Donnie discovers, but there’s an honesty to their connection that doesn’t succumb to easy answers. Fate is what we make it, appears to be the order of the day.
In the Ring: Creed III marks the directorial debut of Jordan, and it’s a project which proves to be exceptionally well-suited for a first-time director — as part of a well-established franchise, there’s a clear road map in place for the film to follow, but lots of opportunity for Jordan to find his own spin on classic elements.
Which is to say, we’ve got the big fights, the intrigue between matches, and you’d better believe there’s a training montage. Not all of these moments are executed in the traditional sense, in ways that might displease hardcore fans — but this is technically the ninth film in the Rocky series, and you can’t blame Jordan for wanting to find a fresh angle on certain concepts.