Adonis Isn't Really The Hero Of Creed III, And That's What Makes It Great

This post contains spoilers for "Creed III."

"Rocky" is a mythic saga, but its characters are ultimately human. The first film is the everyman story to end all others: a nobody boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) taking on world-famous champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). The sequels increasingly moved away from the working-class hero trappings of the first, but Apollo's death in "Rocky IV" brought characters who seemed like titans back to mortality.

The reason the first "Creed" radiated ingenuity, despite being the seventh installment in a franchise, is because it went back to the real world. With Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the movie had an underdog protagonist again. The film also looked down-to-earth; Adonis ran through the streets of Philadelphia so off the beaten path that they felt right out of the Bruce Springsteen song.

"Creed III" largely ditches the first film's setting for the richest neighborhoods of Los Angeles. However, the humanity of the characters remains. "Creed III" is about Adonis at his highest (he's a champion who got out of the game on a high note), but also at his lowest; he spends the whole film creating his own problems and unwilling to confront his past. Adonis has a boxing opponent to defeat — you don't break a winning formula, after all — but his character arc is an internal one, where he must overcome his own flaws.

A closed-off king

"Rocky III" was about shaking the now-champion hero out of his new complacency — so much so that it's debatable whether Rocky is the real hero of the movie or if his rival Clubber Lang (Mr. T) is. In "Creed III," Adonis is at the top of the world, just like his mentor was in the 1982 three-quel. Having hung up his gloves, Adonis now splits his time between being a father and running a gym alongside his old trainer "Little Duke" Evers (Wood Harris).

Then Adonis' old friend Damian "Dame" Anderson (Jonathan Majors) shows up, having just got out of prison. Damian was an up-and-coming boxer before he went behind bars, and wants back in the ring. Adonis offers help, from setting him up to train with Duke to giving him a chance at fighting the world champion Felix Chavez (José Benavidez Jr.). However, Adonis just views this as charity and humoring an old friend. So, he's surprised by Damian's aggression in pursuing the champion title, doubly so when he beats Felix.

It's clear Adonis feels he has something to make up to Damien, but he won't come out and apologize to him, nor will he share the specifics of his guilt with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson). And his stubbornness causes trouble that could've been avoided.

Dame Anderson: A rival, but not a villain

Adonis' flaws are counterbalanced with a sympathetic villain; it's hard to hate Damian. It's revealed the two were raised in the same abusive foster home together. Years later, Adonis saw their abusive former guardian Leon and punched him, and Damian had to pull a gun to save Adonis from being beaten. When the police arrived, Adonis ran while Damian was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Between the events that separated them and where they are now, Damian feels he got screwed out of his shot — "Try spending half your life in a cell watching somebody else live your life." He also can't respect Adonis because he saw him run away when the chips were down. All the courage Adonis showed stepping into the ring means nothing when he wouldn't stand by his friends.

Now, Damian does go too far. He only gets his fight with Felix because the challenger, Victor Drago (Florian Munteanu) was attacked, and Adonis discovers that Damian orchestrated this. After becoming the champion, Damian punches Adonis and talks trash on live TV, implying that Apollo Creed would see his son as a coward. Rather than reacting immediately out of anger — the mistake he made 18 years ago, which Damian ultimately paid the price for — Adonis agrees to fight Damian only after finally opening up to Bianca.

In one of many anime-inspired beats in "Creed III," the only way the two former friends can come to reconciliation is by fighting each other. After the match, when they've unloaded punches on each other, they're finally able to talk things out with no dishonesty about their feelings. Adonis facing Damian was really about him facing his past, and he needed to do that to overcome his struggles in the present. By deftly blending their character arcs with the action in the ring, "Creed III" continues a strong run for this reborn franchise.