In doing so, Jordan is following in the footsteps of Sylvester Stallone, who directed himself in four of the “Rocky” movies, including 2006’s heartfelt “Rocky Balboa.” But he also has to follow the work of his longtime friend and close collaborator Ryan Coogler, who helmed the original “Creed.” Jordan has taken all that pressure and expectation and turned it into a film that both honors the series’ legacy while spinning the lore forward. And totally unsurprisingly, he draws powerhouse performances from his co-stars, including a fearsome Jonathan Majors as Adonis’ childhood friend-turned-adversary.
“Creed III” takes a little while to get going, though, as it flashes back to 2002 Los Angeles to establish the shared history between the film’s eventual competitors. We see Adonis “Donnie” Creed sneaking out of his bedroom as a young teenager to watch his big brother figure, Damian “Dame” Anderson, dominate in underground fights. A violent confrontation on the way home one night seals both of their fates, with Adonis going onto greatness and Damian heading for an 18-year prison term. A precisely timed, beautifully placed match cut moves the story ahead 15 years to show us that Donnie now has the boxing career Dame always dreamed of; another jump to the present day reveals that Adonis has retired from the ring and is living a luxurious life in a modern mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
Jordan’s eye for detail is on display as he efficiently reflects the kind of wealth Adonis enjoys with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and their deaf daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). The minimalist elegance and creamy neutrals—the work of production designer Jahmin Assa and costume designer Lizz Wolf—instantly indicate the tasteful, peaceful persona Adonis now seeks to exude to the world.
Just as Adonis is shaping the next generation of fighters as a behind-the-scenes force at his own Delphi Boxing Academy, singer-songwriter Bianca is penning tunes and working with new talent as a producer. They tell themselves they’re content, but there’s an intriguing tension in the mix as it’s clear they both still long for the spotlight that once defined them, nourished them. Thompson brings an earthiness and sensitivity to this heavily masculine movie, and young Davis-Kent—who is a deaf actress—shines brightly in her first major role, more than holding her own opposite veteran performers with her sparky presence and timing. Phylicia Rashad also returns with a crucial, graceful performance as Adonis’ mother, Mary-Anne. And the frequent use of sign language as a means of communicating within the family is a meaningful, authentic touch.