Creed III is a conclusive conclusion to the previous two films' themes centered around faith, determination, loss, and perseverance. It also serves as a platform that, for the first time, feels like an Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) story - even if there is still a bit of Rocky DNA present. In the first Creed, Adonis embraces his late father Apollo’s legacy and puts his own signature on it. Creed II was about him reaching the top, falling, and battling to reclaim it in the face of your most formidable challenge.
When we see Creed at the start of the third film, he has reached the complete pinnacle of a successful boxing career. All that’s in front of him is his retirement fight against the man who beat him in the first film, Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Every athlete dreams of the “storybook ending” – where you leave their craft on top without any unfinished business. Adonis has a beautiful house in Los Angeles, a great family, and serves as a mentor for upcoming fighters as a promoter.
But we all know there is no such thing as an easy ride off into the sunset. Athletes are creatures of habit, and adjusting to not building to the next obstacle is difficult enough. (Look at Tom Brady). There are also facets to Adonis’s past that he has not dealt with – both from a physical and emotional standpoint. One day, fresh off an 18-year prison sentence, Adonis’s old friend Damian “Dame” Anderson (Jonathan Majors) shows up at the boxing gym.
At first, it seems like Adonis has seen a ghost. The beginning of Creed III shows how close they were at a young age growing up at an orphanage – their respective roles were reversed. Damian was on his way to being a boxing prodigy, and Adonis was the “little brother” that cheered him on. But a certain succession of choices led to Damian going to prison – something that could be understandable from specific perspectives.
A certain amount of tension is present within their first conversation in years. Damian mentions he’s watched Adonis for years. In turn, Adonis offers to help Damian – even giving him a pathway to train at his gym, sparing with his younger prodigy. The combination of the pressures of time and feeling like your life is stolen from you is a dangerous mix—much credit to Majors' portrayal of Anderson. Damian seems he means well – yet, a fit of underlying boiling anger is inside him. As the film goes on, he’s not able to keep it in check. Trainer Tony (Wood Harris) can see it, but Adonis is blind to it because he feels guilty.
With this being the first film that Jordan has directed, the story written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin makes that transition easier. Creed III has the fight action fans have grown accustomed to – with more of an anime-style flair that gives each one a distinctness. As Rocky has made his exit, it’s given more time to develop other characters giving the story a roundness, not just centered around Adonis. Like Adonis's transition to life without boxing, his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has to do something similar regarding her hearing and putting her performing career aside. Even though she lives with that pain, Bianca strives to find constructive ways to make peace. Adonis is used to punching through his problems, and that’s a journey they both help each other through.
The film also beautifully shows Adonis and Bianca's bond with their deaf daughter, Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), through sign language. Davis-Kent brings a bit of lightheartedness to Creed III and plays a key role in the plot in how all these things manifest in the next generation of Creeds. Phylicia Rashad has a small, but impactful screen time as Adonis’ mother, Mary Anne. She serves as the pillar of things Adonis needs to hear at the right time.
A plethora of moments arise within Creed III that are equally impactful, both inside the ring and out. Adonis Creed worked his ass off to get to the top of the mountain; however, to borrow from 2006’s Rocky Balboa, there’s still “stuff in the basement.” Through the Mike Tyson-like demeanor Majors embodies within Damian, there is also sadness. Sadness knowing that things not under your control may have robbed you of all the dreams you had. It’s something that both men have to come to terms with in different ways – being black men on opposite sides of the spectrum.
If anything, Creed III triumphantly shows how much the Black experience has to deal with survivors' guilt and how forgiveness given to each other for societal factors beyond their control is vital.