REVIEW: ‘Creed III’ Offers A Love Letter to Shonen Rivals

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Creed III - But Why Tho?

I love boxing, but I don’t like the Rocky movies. Well, most of them. But there is something about Creed and Michael B. Jordan’s time as Adonis Creed has stuck with me in a way I didn’t expect. While the films tread through a path that Rocky Balboa set, they have also managed to get out of Rocky and Sylvester Stalone’s shadow, and Creed III is the best example.

Creed III is Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut and is written by , , and . The film brings audiences into the life of a retired Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), thriving in both his career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy, Damian (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after 18 years in prison, he is eager to prove that he deserves his shot in the ring. The face-off between former friends is more than just a fight, with Damian holding in more anger than even Adonis had at the start of his journey, and Adonis is the reason for it. To settle the score, Adonis must put his future on the line to battle Damian, as much a fight about the past as it is about the present.

For those who come into the film with no knowledge of anime or its archetypes, you’ll have a fun time. You don’t need to know the stories and characters that Jordan sprinkles throughout the film in order to understand the intention and emotion. However, if you are an anime fan, if you are familiar with the rivalry tropers and are moved by them, there is more for you to take away in Creed III.

The truth is that Creed III embodies shonen rivalry storytelling in all of its compelling moments and in its faults. The hallmark of a good shonen rivalry is that two characters, the protagonist and the rival push each other in equal measure. While the former pushes forward with grace, often stumbling in understanding the crux of the dispute, the latter is typically angrier, more violent, and is nearly on the edge of villainy (or begins as a villain).

Over time, the two characters push each other and at some point their conflict comes to a head, fighting it out and airing their grievances at the same time. Creed III captures this with clear inspiration from Naruto’s and Sasuke’s relationship, as well as Vegeta and Goku from the Dragon Ball franchise. There is bad blood, yes, but it lays under the surface of every interaction, simmering until they clash. Yes, this is a film that lives in the underdog story of Rocky Balboa, but it is also a love letter to the friendships built through suffering and rivalry that we see in shonen anime in a way that Jordan only began to explain in the press tour for the film.

From the relationship to the ability to capture boxing matches on camera, many shonen elements are injected into the film. From punches straight from iconic series to the way that Jordan captures muscles rippling from a punch to his use of color and focus, it all works. Jordan understands that fighting, and in this case boxing, isn’t just violence. It takes heart, emotion, and control.

While the people around him don’t see his push to fight his childhood friend turned current antagonist as conducive to solving a decades-old problem, Adonis sees it differently. In their final fight, the fight between Adonis and Damian isn’t just for winning. It starts off vicious, both taunting the other, and as the crowd falls out and Jordan hones in on our two leads there is a pain between them that each blow captures. Each time they hurt the other, they hurt too, and the ability to capture that emotion is a testament to understanding how action works as a storytelling tool and not just filler.

While Jordan uses the fight and build-up between Damian and Adonis expertly on an emotional level, he also hits a pitfall in the shonen rivalry arcs. He forgets about his other characters and their importance and instead leaves them tacked on. While the film is just under two hours, removing some elements, no matter how charming they are, like him and Amara or him and his mother, would have allowed the film to close in more succinctly on the characters at hand.

Not to mention, to do so would give Majors more time to explore Damian’s depth as a character. While Majors does a phenomenal job with what he’s given, capturing the pain and loneliness of moving through rooms full of people where you should belong but don’t, more time with Damian would have allowed for positioning his turn from an old friend to rival in a more salient way.

Creed III — But Why Tho

But even with a script that expands the scope of the story a little too wide, it’s the chemistry and shared trauma between Adonis and Damian as acted by Jordan and Majors that makes the film stand out. Each man brings rich silent performances as much as their spoken or physical ones. While Majors looks constantly uncomfortable and pained in every room, Jordan brims with guilt in every frame once Damian returns. Sure, they deliver lines expertly, but what they do with their faces, their eyes, and their bodies tell a story that the dialogue can only signal towards.

Creed III’s visual language, as literal as it may be, offers up a beautifully rich film and a love letter to shonen rivals. And because of that, it’s frustrating when the intimate and personal transitions to the spectacle of an arena and clearly fake crowds of people are given attention. While we have seen critiques of CGI In big-budget blockbusters for otherworldly moments, it’s the use of fake crowds that starkly marks a difference in aesthetic from the rest of the film. While the flashbacks are gritty and darker in lighting and focus, the current-day training also manages to capture a moment that feels real. However, when we’re in the ring, it’s almost as if a sheen of spectacle has been draped over it all and the intimacy removed, which is a disservice to the wonderful directing and fight choreography on display.

It’s clear that there are ups and downs in Creed III, but the one consistent element of perfection is the film’s score. Every lyric is matched to the moment happening, every instrumental portion drives intensity, and all work together splendidly to be one of the best film scores and soundtracks I’ve heard in a very long time.

Creed III is about a friendship forged in fire, rebuilding bridges, and embracing what you need to move on. It’s not here to lecture the audience and the best way to repair a friendship or to recover from the past. But it is here to push you to work at it. To work at finding your place in a world that may be unlike where you thought you would be. When viewed simply, Damian and Adonis just needed to fight it out instead of talking about their feelings. But when you look at the fights, they’re all heart, all emotion, and are just a way of communicating the things you can’t say. They fight, but they also open up to each other in the most vulnerable way they have been taught to.

Creed III premieres in theaters nationwide on March 3, 2023.

Creed III
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10


Creed III is a love letter to a friendship forged in fire, rebuilding bridges, and embracing what you need to move on. It’s not here to lecture the audience and the best way to repair a friendship or to recover from the past. But it is here to push you to work at it. To work at finding your place in a world that may be unlike where you thought you would be.

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