There are few surprises in Creed III, but people don’t come to these movies to be shocked. People expect easy-to-follow entertainment. You know where the story is going every step of the way, and you’re OK with that because it’s comfort food. From that viewpoint, this latest installment of the franchise delivers even though it’s the first Rocky film without Rocky. 

Creed III features two major changes. First, no Sylvester Stallone who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, was unhappy with the direction of the movie. Second, Michael B. Jordan pulls double duty. The leading man makes his directorial debut, and he doesn’t mess with a winning formula. Creed is well-paced with creative moments and hits all the notes that audiences have grown to love.

You’d figure that not having Rocky would hurt. The biggest highlight of the first two Creed flicks was the chemistry between 76-year-old Stallone and 36-year-old Jordan. Their camaraderie was embraced by old fans and new ones. That spark is missing in Creed III, but it has been replaced by something equally interesting. 

Jonathan Majors packs the biggest punch in the entire cast. As the antagonist Damian, he dominates every frame he’s in. If you’ve been following Majors’ work, you know of his magnetic presence. Majors commands attention. He is starring in three films in 2023: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Creed III, and Magazine Dreams. So, it’s all lining up for this to be his breakout year. Majors’ Damian is a worthy counterpart to Jordan’s Adonis “Donnie” Creed. And we’re not just talking about the boxing scenes. From the moment they first meet as adults, Majors owns the movie.

Majors presents Damian as a desperate frienemy who feels like he’s owed something. And even though you can easily predict his evil plan like a telegraphed roundhouse swing, watching him slowly execute it is still remarkable. The devolving relationship between Damian and Donnie is at the heart of this movie, from childhood friends to adult foes. Damian not only makes Donnie uncomfortable. Viewers might also find themselves squirming. You’re waiting for something terrible to happen when Donnie catches Damian leaning on his Rolls-Royce. Even lunch at a diner feels tense.

Majors’ purposeful approach has helped him develop memorable characters with depth who can elevate any movie. Majors is a big reason why Jordan’s first try as a filmmaker is a triumph. While many actors want to direct, it’s not a simple transition. Sure, we have recent examples of impressive debuts like Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart and B.J. Novak’s Vengeance, but those are outliers.

Being a director requires different skills and more responsibility. You need to be fully immersed in every detail, no matter how minute. When a movie succeeds, the director gets the credit. If it bombs, the director gets the blame. Jordan knows what his audience wants, and he gives them what they’ll pay to see. Creed III holds your attention throughout, and even when some storylines don’t seem necessary, they’re not bad.

The climatic fight looks beautiful. Jordan learned a lot from his previous directors Ryan Coogler (Creed) and Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II). He also adds his own touches, including parts of the boxing match that feel like they’re right out of a dream. It catches you off-guard but works because Jordan gives a different perspective. The only time when Jordan makes a possible misstep occurs in a scene that takes place in the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse. It seems forced, superfluous, and out of character for where Donnie and Damian are in their relationship.
The biggest compliment you can give Jordan: Creed III looks and feels like a well-crafted Rocky movie. Even if Rocky isn’t in it.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.