Michael B. Jordan makes a strong directorial debut with an intimate, thrilling tale of brotherhood gone bitter—and a stupendous action climax.
Round three of twelve. Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan)—the fresh-out-of-retirement undisputed heavyweight champion of the world—faces Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors)—the ruthless-came-from-eighteen-years-in-prison reigning champ. Growing up in a group home, Adonis and Damian were brothers—united by care for one another in a callous system and a shared love of the sweet science.
Adonis was adopted into a life of wealth and privilege by his legendary father Apollo (Carl Weathers, appearing in archival footage)’s wife Mary Alice (Phylicia Rashad) and, in adulthood, became the best boxer in the world under the tutelage of his father’s rival-turned-best-friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, absent this time around). Adonis married his best friend—musician Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson). They had a daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent, making her debut) and have proven themselves to be excellent parents. Retired from the ring to parent Amara and to train and promote the next generation of fighters, Adonis was content and happy.
And then Damian came back. Imprisoned for 18 years after an incident involving an abusive former caretaker—an incident Adonis escaped from—Damian lived his life in a cell. Before going down, he’d been the best Golden Gloves fighter in history. But for that one night, Adonis’ adult life could very well have been his. Once back in the world, Damian was determined to make up for lost time. The ring, the belts, the glory, the victory. He would get all of it. No matter what. Brutality, cruelty, ruthlessness—all tools Damian was willing to use. And if Adonis wouldn’t help him, well, it would not be the first time he’d left Damian high and dry.
The two men are bound by history and feeling, by love and hate and regret and what-could-have-beens. Their connection and its mutations drive and shape them. If they are to get clear of their shared past, they have to get past all of that. And Damian is so armored up in ego, resentment (justified and unjustified) and the longed-for validation of being champion that there is only one way Adonis can reach him—in the ring. The so-called Battle for Los Angeles is not merely a contest for a title. It’s a fight for the future, a fight to live.
Damian needs to beat Adonis—the curdled, treacherous Adonis that exists in his head, the fraud who stole the life he’s only just managed to get back. Adonis does not need to beat Damian. He needs to beat Diamond Dame—the manipulative egomaniac who will not be satisfied even after achieving his 18-year-dream, who brutalizes others for the satisfaction, who aims to obliterate everything good in Adonis’ life for spite.
So they fight, and in round three of twelve, the world falls away. It’s just Adonis and Damian, but not just their present selves. They fight their history. Damian fights the cruel, inhuman prison system that left him with nothing to do but stew in resentment. Adonis fights the painful parts of his pre-adoption life that he’d blocked out for fear of the bottled-up guilt and hurt. Creed III‘s climax is emotional, mythical and just plum superb filmmaking—a standout moment in an excellent film (Creed III is, as of this writing, my film to beat in 2023. That’s an uphill battle.).
Michael B. Jordan’s made a very, very fine directorial debut here. As a character piece, Creed III deftly navigates between Adonis and Damian’s points of view.
Adonis’ segments see Jordan work with the wider ensemble—a loving father with Davis-Kent (herself a deaf performer playing a deaf character)’s Amara, a devoted partner and friend to Thompson’s Bianca while nevertheless struggling to be fully open with her, and searching for the truth of what he and Majors’ Damian are to each other between their history and Damian’s current ruthlessness.
Majors, by contrast, performs a significant number of his scenes solo—Damian’s been out of the world for a long, long time. He’s got his plan, and when he’s running it, it’s everything he needs—motivation, focus, an engine. When he’s not running the plan, he’s isolated, out of sync, and desperately lonely. Would that his hatred for Adonis was pure—that would be simpler. But for all of Damian’s resentment towards and manipulation of Adonis, there is still care there, care and history. Shared jokes, shared passion, and an understanding that hasn’t completely washed away.
The wider Creed III ensemble’s work is uniformly darn good, but Jordan and Majors are the main ticket here—both dramatically and in action. In addition to drawing on his long-term love of anime when building Creed III‘s action language, Johnson skillfully lays how Adonis and Damian fight (both are analytical and observant: Adonis seeks out his opponents’ vulnerabilities and systematically breaks them down, Damian goads his foes into giving him an opening and moves in to pulverize) and, alongside stunt coordinator Clayton Barber and fight choreographer Mark R. Miscione builds a climax with a driving flow—whether amidst the roar of Dodger Stadium or in the void where the world is Adonis, Damian and their fight. It’s kinetic, vibrant filmmaking—filmmaking that demands to be revisited.
Put simply, I adored Creed III. It’s an excellent conclusion to an excellent trilogy, and it’s my favorite film of 2023 so far.
Also: if IMAX is an option, see it in IMAX.
Creed III is now playing in theaters.