Photo courtesy United Artists

The “Rocky” series is one of the most fascinating franchises in cinematic history.

It started off as an Oscar-winning character drama in the 70s and then morphed into pure Hollywood-blockbuster spectacle in the 80s before overstaying its welcome and becoming a punchline in the 90s.

Then in 2015, along came “Creed,” the perfect sequel/reboot as writer/director Ryan Coogler brilliantly combined “Rocky” lore with the edge he brought to “Black Panther.” It was “Top Gun: Maverick” before “Top Gun: Maverick.”

It also made a star out of Michael B. Jordan who is electric as Adonis Creed, the long-lost son of Rocky’s dearly-departed nemesis-turned-best-friend, Apollo Creed.

“Creed” was followed by a just-fine sequel “Creed II” in 2018 which has lead us now to “Creed III.”

“Creed III” is notable for a couple of reasons, first, it marks Jordan’s directorial debut and second, it is the first movie in the Rocky Cinematic Universe to not feature Sylvester Stallone as Rocky.

This movie finds Adonis at the pinnacle of his career and looking to his future beyond boxing and spending more time with his family: his music-producer wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), his hearing-impaired daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) and his adoptive mother Mary-Anne (Phyllcia Rashad).

But just as Adonis is about to hang up the gloves, a figure from his past emerges. Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors, a dude who knows how to dominate a movie screen) is a childhood friend of Adonis’ who has spent most of his adult life behind bars which cut short a promising boxing career.

The plot machinations that vault Damian to stardom and drag Adonis back into the ring are the messiest parts of the movie as the two swing back and forth between being friends and enemies.

“Creed III” shines when we step into the ring and in the moments when the characters simply get to interact with each other. This is a stacked cast and Jordan and Majors both have the charisma to carry a movie even when the plotting gets a little murky.

Jordan proves he’s got the chops to be an excellent director, as the camera work in the boxing scenes is creative and exciting, while in the quieter scenes he gets out of the way and lets the actors go to work.

Stallone’s absence is felt, but probably more for nostalgia reasons than anything else. “Creed III” stands on its own and Jordan proves that Adonis is still a character worth rooting for.

“Creed III” is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language.  

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