Mike at the Movies: Creed III is the Latest Addition to a Timeless, Binge-worthy Series


Michael B. Jordan has emerged as one of the most interesting movie stars working these days. He exudes the sort of smoldering intensity – sexual, kinetic and violent – that elevates some actors into international superstardom. His portrayal of Killmonger in Black Panther, for example, was one of the great villain portrayals in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because he was so believably driven and dangerous. 

But there is a soulfulness to Jordan, too – a vulnerability that links him to Paul Newman, one of the great actors in Hollywood history – which makes all that intensity both mesmerizing and charismatic. Jordan’s soulfulness is on full display in his latest film, Creed III (PG-13), currently playing exclusively in theaters.

It’s been 47 years since Sylvester Stallone created the Rocky franchise, slugging his way to a surprise Oscar for Best Picture in a true underdog tale and seeding the ground for a slew of sequels that have branched off into the Creed series. 

Stallone’s Rocky Balboa was pure Philadelphia schmaltz: a lovable mug who shambles by dumb luck into a heavyweight title shot and stuns the world with a wicked left hook. Jordan’s Adonis Creed, in contrast, is all Hollywood hustle and LA pizzazz: a fighter with a sizable chip on his shoulder who struggles to live in the shadow of his famous father, Apollo Creed, who, as played by Carl Weathers, was a thinly veiled caricature of Muhammad Ali – arguably the most famous sports personality of all time. Just try living under that shadow.

Stallone figured prominently in the first two Creed movies, playing the part of the reluctant trainer who ambles out of retirement to help young “Donnie” control his temper and craft his talent once the kid leaves the reformatory and wanders into Rocky’s restaurant begging for help. His fingerprints are all over the story lines, too. 

The first Creed – directed by Ryan Coogler, who parlayed its success into making the Black Panther franchise for Marvel, which, then, gave us Jordan’s Killmonger – essentially retold the first Rocky, as the neophyte Adonis gets an unexpected title shot out of nowhere and – well, you can guess the rest. 

Creed II – directed by Steven Caple Jr., who subsequently jumped to the Transformers franchise – retooled Rocky IV as Adonis, now champ, climbs into the ring in Moscow to battle the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian behemoth who killed his father in a beatdown, and whom Rocky had to avenge against enormous odds and obstacles.

Stallone’s not around in this third installment – efficiently directed by Jordan, who’s making his debut behind the camera while still capably performing in front of it – but the ghost of Rocky III haunts the script in this story of a thug from young Donnie’s past who emerges from a long stint in prison to seek revenge both personal and professional. Damian “Dame” Anderson (played by Mr. Everywhere these days, Jonathan Majors) is as ferocious and imposing as Mr. T’s Clubber Lang, and just as conniving. 

Can Adonis – who, as the film begins, has retired into the good life of being a father and celebrity, living in an enormous mansion in the Hollywood Hills with wife Bianca (series staple Tessa Thompson) and darling daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) – withstand the personal insults and guilt trips thrown his way by Dame, or will he have to answer the bell to defend his name and family legacy? You can answer that question without even thinking, but here’s a hint: Creed IV is already in pre-production.

The pleasures of the Creed series, like the six Rocky films before it, aren’t found in surprise outcomes or dark, dramatic insights into the human soul. 

Instead, they arrive through repeating familiar tropes, reinforcing what we want to believe about the possibilities of personal redemption and individual success, despite the overwhelming odds the world might stack against us. We yearn to see someone deserving – someone representative of who we aspire to be – triumph over evil and brutishness. That yearning makes this series timeless and binge worthy. 

Those previous eight installments are readily available on DVD and streaming via Amazon Prime.

In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for The Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He currently serves as Door County’s poet laureate. 

Creed III’s Anime Influences


If you’ve kept up with the marketing of Creed III, you’ve probably heard Michael B. Jordan gushing about his love for Japanese animation, and specifically how numerous anime series influenced his direction of this movie – both in the themes present, and even in the blocking and framing of certain scenes.

Dragon Ball, Naruto, My Hero Academia and Hajime no Ippo are some of the series Jordan has referenced in the movie. Naruto was cited as being an inspiration for its portrayal of friends, to rivals, to enemies mirrored in the relationship of his Creed with co-star Jonathan Major’s Anderson.

Several scenes adapt moments from these series more literally, such as a powerful gut punch with sweat blasting from Creed’s back featured in the trailers for the film being referenced from Dragon Ball Z. One moment in the film is a shot-for-shot reference to 1968’s Ashita no Joe, in which two boxers’ fists connect with each other’s jaws at the same time, known colloquially as a cross counter. It’s a scene that’s been mimicked in dozens of anime since.

This wouldn’t be the first time when Jordan’s love of anime has crossed into his professional career. Fans speculated that his costume in Black Panther was a direct reference to Dragon Ball Z’s Vegeta. Jordan said he had no influence on the design, but he hinted that director Ryan Coogler was an anime fan, too, so it wasn’t out of the question.