‘Creed 3’ Has the Wrong Protagonist

Jonathan Majors’s villain is way more complicated and interesting than this boxing movie’s vainglorious hero

The original ‘Rocky’ was the best movie in the now nearly 50-year saga that Creed 3 seems to cap, but Rocky 3 was by far the most awesome of the series, the one where Rocky fights Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, where he and Apollo have their beach bromance. The saga goes from being an underdog story to being an unstoppable force of pop-culture cheese. ‘Creed 3’ is also the best movie of its own trilogy, but for different reasons. The original Creed had its charms, but they were mostly related to director Ryan Coogler taking the franchise back to its Philly roots and coaxing one more Oscar-nominated performance out of Sylvester Stallone. Well, Sly is nowhere near Creed 3. His image doesn’t appear, and the name “Rocky” only shows up once in the script.

CREED 3 ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Michael B. Jordan
Written by: Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin, Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad
Running time: 117 min

Creed 3 suffers from the same problems as the other two Creed movies. The Rocky movies worked as well as they did, at least for a while, because Rocky Balboa was a genuine underdog who went from punching sides of beef in a Philadelphia meat freezer to heavyweight champion of the world. When we first meet Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the man that Rocky beat for the title, he’s working a nice office job in Los Angeles and living in a Bel Air mansion with his adoptive mother, Creed’s former wife. He doesn’t have any boxing experience, or seemingly any desire to become a boxer, but he becomes the champ anyway, because it’s apparently his destiny.

In Creed 3, Adonis is now the retired champ, having gone out on top, because this isn’t a protagonist who has flaws. He lives in an even nicer mansion now with his wife, a beautiful and ethically flawless music superstar played by Tessa Thompson, and their daughter, who is deaf but who is otherwise perfect in every way. Trouble shows up in the form of Jonathan Majors, a figure from Creed’s less-than-perfect past, but there’s never a sense of actual menace. Of course Adonis Creed wins. He always wins, breaking a sweat, but never showing an emotion deeper than mild annoyance and a kind of perturbed sadness.

Creed 2 was a disaster, featuring a completely nonsensical plotline where Adonis has to fight the son of Ivan Drago, the Russian boxer who killed Apollo Creed in the ring. The first Creed contained no real villain. Creed 3, on the other hand, features the most interesting bad guy in what must now be a 10-movie series. Majors’s Damian Anderson is Adonis’s best boyhood friend, his “brother,” a former Golden Gloves champion who went to jail upstate for 18 years for a crime he did commit, but it was an honorable crime. Majors returns, jacked as hell, and through a series of completely ridiculous plot contrivances gets a shot at the heavyweight title. Spoiler alert: he wins. This is a plot arc that took Rocky Balboa a solid four and a half hours, spread throughout two movies, to achieve. In Creed 3, it happens in about the span of 15 minutes.

This is the central problem of Creed 3. It has the wrong protagonist. We should be rooting for Dame Anderson, not against him. Instead, we have to watch Creed avenge his boyhood trauma even though he’s incredibly rich and successful, while Anderson lives in a terrible apartment and then, after he wins, in a less-terrible apartment. Anderson has no personal life, no inner life, he is just an understated tsunami of resentment. There’s no “good woman” rooting him on. A guy who gets out of jail and becomes the champ should the the greatest story of all time. Instead, it’s just Adonis Creed, gazing at himself admiringly in the wall length bathroom mirror, while a chill Tessa Thompson stands by him in her indie-rock T-shirt and boxer shorts.

Michael B. Jordan directs this third installment, and does a nice job with a limited script. The final fight occurs at a CGI-enhanced Dodger Stadium, but Jordan effectively handles a kind of fantasy cutaway in the middle of the battle, making an in-person fight spectacular feel intimate and personal. Earlier, a grief sequence where Creed loses his mother, played by Phylicia Rashad, feels earned, full of genuine emotion. And he coaxes an extraordinary performance out of Majors, who, with this film-dominating role atop his phenomenal turn at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s new big bad guy, establishes himself as an actor at the summit of the movie-star pyramid. Creed 3 is his movie, and he’s the character who deserves a sequel. Hopefully Adonis Creed, having won again despite not really deserving to, can actually retire now to his perfect, humorless life, while the rest of the world continues to slug it out in the trenches.


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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

7 thoughts on “‘Creed 3’ Has the Wrong Protagonist

  • March 4, 2023 at 8:57 am

    Horrible article. The writer has no idea what he’s talking about. Adonis was sneaking over to Mexico while working his office job. The desire was always to be a boxer. He purposely hid his real last name to become a boxer on his own merits. Creed III shows his love for boxing since childhood, while Creed I showed he was always getting into fights.

    Creed II’s plot made perfect sense, showing a disgraced father and boxer attempting to regain honor and dignity by using his son as a weapon against Rocky/Creed when all he needed to do was love his son.

    Dame may be the most interesting villain in the series, but there is most certainly real malice involved. It is envy and vengeance for Creed running away and abandoning him, going on to live the life Dame felt he deserved. The story of the movie claims, just as the writer of this article claims, that Adonis does not deserve to win. While I partially agree, Dame should’ve won, it’s not because he’s the true underdog, but that Dame had a lot more angry and pent up envy in his heart that he could never resolve while Creed had opportunity to do so. Which, actually does make Creed the underdog, because he has no anger towards Dame, only his past. So he must defeat his past.

    The writer of this article makes uneducated comments about these movies as if he’d only seen the trailer and not the actual movies.

    • March 4, 2023 at 11:56 am

      Dame did deserve that life. He went to jail defending his friend. I maintain that the problem with Creed 3, as has been the problem with all the Creed movies, is that Adonis is not realistic, believable, or sympathetic in any way. We don’t get a hint of his hardscrabble background until the beginning of Creed 3, and by then, he’s so rich and privileged that it doesn’t matter.

    • March 4, 2023 at 2:56 pm

      You are spot on. Sounds like this writer watched another trilogy

  • March 4, 2023 at 6:15 pm

    This article is silly. The writer fails to understand simply that Creed is NOT Rocky and does not owe homage to it totally. Creed 3 is awesome and engaging and believable. Yes is the best of the Creed series, which like Rocky is headed some where. ROCKY spoken to the people of its time, cold war menace, amateur vs the best, great storylines and themes Creed on its own will develop too.

    • March 7, 2023 at 12:46 am

      I take issue with being “believable”. Dame has not been a trained boxer in 18 years and surface from obscurity to defeat the Heavyweight Champ within a few weeks and takes Adonis Creed 12 rounds. I know movies are full of things that don’t happen but if sooner believe in the tooth fairy.

  • March 18, 2023 at 1:37 pm

    I felt sorry for Dame. He defended his childhood friend Creed, went to jail and was abandoned by him and never heard from him when he was in prison.
    I wanted to find a reason to really hate him as the “villain,” but I really couldn’t find a reason to.
    I didn’t like the storyline of Creed III at at.

  • March 28, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Spot on.

    Movie was borderline awful outside of a some competent directing and Major’s performance. The script, however, was outright awful, full of holes and leaps of logic; further proving that Adonis essentially has no story…


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