By Alex McPherson

Ambitious but held back by genre conventions, Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut “Creed III” features great performances and viscerally engaging boxing sequences, while sidelining its more thoughtful ideas to a fault.

Continuing the story of Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Jordan), the son of Rocky Balboa’s rival-turned-friend Apollo, “Creed III” sees our hero encountering ghosts from his past entering the literal and figurative arena. We begin with a flashback to 15-year-old Adonis (Thaddeus J. Mixson) sneaking out of his mother’s house to watch his best pal Damian Anderson (Spence Moore II) compete in a local Golden Gloves competition.

Damian, a boxing prodigy, dreams of one day becoming the world heavyweight champion. His hopes come to a screeching halt as Adonis starts an altercation with someone outside a liquor store. Damian is arrested in the ensuing scuffle, spending 20 grueling years behind bars, and Adonis gets away.

Seven years after the events of “Creed II,” Adonis announces his retirement from boxing to spend time with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who’s now a music producer; his deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent); and his adoptive mother, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad).

A few years later, Adonis runs a boxing academy, training his new protégé, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez), for a title shot against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), with the help of the gruff, wise Tony “Little Duke” Burton (Wood Harris). Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, such a pivotal presence in the previous “Creed” films, is nowhere to be found.

Everything seems to be working out quite nicely for Adonis. He’s rich, with a happy family, and has secured his place among the boxing legends. What he isn’t ready for, regardless, is a reckoning with his past. Damian (a scene-stealing Jonathan Majors) shows up outside his gym unexpectedly, looking to make up for lost time. Adonis and Damian’s interactions are awkward, mixing flashes of their former camaraderie with creeping unease and resentment. Damian, as it turns out, isn’t so thrilled about Adonis’ success, and wants to finally realize his goals through whatever means necessary.

Adonis — bottling up feelings of guilt, trauma, and diminishing self-worth — must confront this symbol of his past and make peace with it for good. This involves an eventual heart-to-heart (or, rather, fist-to-face) in the place most conducive to resolving conflict: the boxing ring, in front of boatloads of rabid fans.

Indeed, for all of Jordan’s high-minded aspirations, “Creed III” ultimately plays it safe, pitting Adonis against a frustratingly limited antagonist reverting back to a predictable formula, and using its layered themes as window-dressing for seen-it-before spectacle. It’s still entertaining, though — delivering the bruising set-pieces, extravagant training montages, and reliably solid performances we expect, albeit not breaking free of tradition to deliver a KO.

As a directorial debut, “Creed III” is impressive, with Jordan competently helming the action and giving actors plenty of room to flex their chops. The boxing scenes themselves remain the highlight; cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau puts viewers right in the thick of it, giving each punch a tactile sting. Jordan also uses slow-motion to emphasize their raw impact and the considerations behind each jab, while being unafraid to take a more “artistic” approach in visualizing the boxers’ inner thoughts during climactic showdowns. The film gets quite brutal at times, leaving viewers with both feelings of cathartic excitement and, perhaps, a bit of exhaustion. 

Outside the ring, “Creed III” is far less stylish, with muted color grading and conventional framing of dialogue-heavy scenes, interspersing flashbacks to that fateful day in Adonis and Damian’s history. Joe Shirley’s score is chock-full of memorable tunes and recurring motifs, which help propel the proceedings along and lend even the less successful moments a distinct identity.

Jordan continues to shine as Adonis — depicting his range as a loving father, devoted husband, yet someone whose ego and sense of “masculinity” affects his willingness to be vulnerable. Despite his lavish home and outward appearance of strength and happiness, Adonis is battling self-doubt regarding his accomplishments, exacerbated by Damian’s re-emergence and subsequent manipulation.

Having already watched Adonis ascend through the boxing ranks and manage his father’s legacy (a central theme of the previous films), it’s interesting, in theory, to watch him grapple with his fame, and recognize just how easily it could have gone the other way — although this introspection leads (unsurprisingly) back to the blunt boxing ring, the ultimate mediator. Majors proves a worthy foil in Damian, bringing a jumpy, volatile energy ensuring him and Jordan are always engaging to watch interact onscreen, ignoring the script’s clunkiness.

Thompson gives characteristic gravitas to Bianca, who plays an ancillary role to Adonis’ arc but faces her own challenges; having progressive hearing loss, she’s had to stop her singing career. Davis-Kent (who’s deaf in real life) holds her own alongside Jordan, Thompson, and Majors — making the most out of a role that’s ultimately setting the stage for a “Creed” spinoff down the road.

The bulk of the film’s issues stem from the framing of Damian as an over-the-top adversary. Damian’s a damaged man, looking for retribution against his childhood friend: they grew up together, but he took a vastly different life path, largely due to chance. With this backstory, Damian should be easy to sympathize with, but “Creed III” too often sways to extremes — depicting Damian as a taunting and merciless individual who, at times, seems less like a flesh-and-blood human being than a “big bad” for our (flawed) lead to vanquish.

By the end, “Creed III” largely eschews the moral ambiguity that was initially so interesting to deliver the usual thrills and avoid deeper insight into both Damian and Adonis’ psyches; in the end, it lacks the emotion that might take it to another level. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but considering the talent involved and a premise begging for more depth, the cast deserves better — especially Majors, whose versatility as a performer isn’t fully capitalized on.

For most viewers, however, “Creed III” will suffice, if not exceed expectations. The fundamentals are all there, but this story could have used another bout of training.

“Creed III” is a 2023 sports action-drama directed by Michael B. Jordan and starring Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson, Mila Kent-Davis and Wood Harris. It is Rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language and runtime 1 hour, 54 minutes. It opened in theaters March 3. Alex’s Grade: B-.

Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed

By Lynn Venhaus

The formula is familiar and the plotline predictable in “Creed III,” but there is an authentic undercurrent between the heavyweight stars Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors playing childhood friends turned professional rivals.

Adonis (Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life, but when a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy resurfaces after a long prison sentence, Damian Anderson (Majors), the face-off is more than just a fight.

The third chapter sadly doesn’t feature Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, but returning castmates include Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ pop-star wife, Wood Harris as trainer “Little Duke,” Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago, and Phylicia Rashad as Mary-Anne Creed.

The mainstay of the Rocky-Creed films is the family legacy thread, and screenwriters Keenan Coogler (original director-writer Ryan’s brother) and Zach Baylin (“King Richard”) lean heavily into it. The face-off between former friends seems more contrived than typical. The melodrama is hyped up as Adonis’ future is on the line and “Dame” has nothing to lose.

However, Jordan, as first-time director, keeps the action fast paced and the obligatory training montage as well as fight scenes intense. Both lead actors are in commendable shape, and the boxing benefits from their commitment.

The subplot about hearing loss is an admirable point – and Jordan’s and Thompson’s sign language is flawless. That part about a family seemingly on top of the world dealing with struggles gives the film a heart-tugging element.

The original “Creed” in 2015 was rousing crowd-pleasing entertainment, lovingly crafted by director and co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler. The underdog boxing story had plenty of Easter eggs to the “Rocky” series.

If you don’t remember it, or the follow-up in 2018, you can still enjoy this film, but it does help to get up to speed about the back story. Last time, Adonis Creed, the son of the legendary heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, faced the son of his father’s boxing foe and killer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren in “Rocky IV”) in the sequel, with Donnie taking on Viktor in a story about not escaping your past and family is everything. Real Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu returns as Viktor in a small role in “III.”

That theme continues here, as a retired Adonis is grooming Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) to be the next champ. He’s pulled back into the ring through a series of unfortunate events. He’s living large, but potshots in his direction are taking an emotional and mental toll. Dame is eager to take his shot and has something to prove.

Looming large is the absence of Stallone, the heart and soul of the franchise since the Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser “Rocky” in 1976. He’s played Rocky eight times, and it’s unfortunate they had no place for him in round three, because his presence is needed. He is the anchor, and not only earned an Oscar nomination for the first “Creed,” but elevated the second one.

Nevertheless, the supporting cast is convincing in their roles. Thompson excels as Adonis’ wife Bianca, and Mila Davis-Kent is endearing as their smart, headstrong daughter Amara.

This doesn’t have the same impact as Coogler’s original, nor does it have the sentimentality. He didn’t direct the second one, as he was too busy with “Black Panther,” and here, he just supplies the story and produces.

Jordan not only is up for the physical challenge of playing Adonis, but also the emotional complexity, and with Majors at the top of his game, the conflict has some bite to it.

Majors, who was noteworthy in early work – “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “Da 5 Bloods,” and “The Harder They Fall,” with his acclaimed performance in last year’s “Devotion” and now as Kang the Conqueror in the Marvel Cinematic Universe making him one to watch, is impressive as Dame. He takes a one-note role and commands the screen.

The music score is a worthy addition from Joseph Shirley, and the soundtrack pulses with urgency.

The tech work is superb, with sharp cinematography by Kramer Morganthau, who worked on the second one, and slick editing by Jessica Bacesse and Tyler Nelson. Production designer Jahmin Assa has created quite a crib for the Creeds and contrasts the past with the present effectively.

Is there enough juice for another one? Will the audience keep coming back? Time will tell.

While it isn’t a knockout, “Creed III” packs enough of a punch for those seeking another chapter in this 47-year-old story and an abundance of contemporary action.

“Creed III” is a 2023 sports action-drama directed by Michael B. Jordan. It stars Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Mila Davis-Kent, and Phylicia Rashad. It is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language. Run time is 1 hour, 56 minutes. It opens in theaters on March 3. Lynn’s Grade: B-

 The Critics Choice Association has announced the additional honorees and presenters that will join, virtually, the third annual Celebration of Black Cinema on Tuesday, February 2, 2021.  The ceremony will be hosted by author and media personality Bevy Smith

Following its invitation-only digital premiere, the event will be shared with the public on KTLA and offered to all Nexstar Media Group television stations.  KTLA will air the 90-minute Celebration of Black Cinema special in Los Angeles on Saturday night, February 6th.   

Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) will receive the Performance of the Year Award for his magnetic and heartbreaking portrayal of Levee, an ambitious musician struggling to earn the recognition he deserves in a world, and a recording studio, built against him.  

A special donation in Chadwick Boseman’s name will be designated to provide scholarships to students participating in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Gold Program.  The Academy Gold Program is an industry talent development, diversity and inclusion initiative to provide individuals, with a focus on underrepresented communities, access and resources to achieve their career pathways in filmmaking.   

Zendaya & John David Washington (Malcolm & Marie) will receive the NextGen Award for their work on the highly anticipated Malcolm & Marie, which was filmed safely amid the pandemic and became one of the most sought-after projects of the season.  Washington and Zendaya portray a filmmaker and his girlfriend returning home from his movie premiere and awaiting the critical response. 

Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah) will receive the Director Award for his visionary telling of the story of American civil rights leader Chairman Fred Hampton, iconic leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who was ultimately killed in 1969. 

Tommie Smith (With Drawn Arms) will receive the Social Justice Award.  An iconic athlete and activist, in With Drawn Arms, Smith reflects on his iconic fist-thrust silent protest on the medal stand during the nation anthem at the 1968 Summer Olympics, a moment that helped define the civil rights movement. 

The Celebration of Black Cinema honorees will be fêted by a prestigious group of presenters who will celebrate their work and their ongoing commitment to telling Black stories on film, including Nnamdi Asomugha, Lee Daniels, Michael Ealy, Dominique Fishback, Taraji P. Henson, Daniel Kaluuya, Jonathan Majors, Kemp Powers, Aaron Sorkin, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Williams, and George C. Wolfe

As previously announced, the event will recognize Delroy Lindo (Career Achievement Award), John Legend & Mike Jackson (the Producers Award), Tessa Thompson (the Actor Award), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (the Breakthrough Award), Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli GoreeAldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom, Jr. (the Ensemble Award),and Andra Day (Special Honoree Award). 

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: