On the face of it, Creed III is an underdog sports movie, one of the most well-trod genres in cinema history and one that arguably requires the least foreknowledge of any other in order to enjoy. There’s going to be a good guy and a bad guy and they’re going to fight– there, you’re caught up.
Only in this case, Creed III isn’t only an underdog sports movie, it’s also the ninth movie in the Rocky franchise and the third Creed movie. The LORE, it turned out, was actually surprisingly important.
Even having seen the previous Creed movies, I was surprised at how much backstory there was — backstory that Creed III admirably doesn’t waste much time rehashing — and how much of it I’d forgotten (in my defense, it has been eight and five years since Creed I and Creed II, respectively). I realized that a brief refresher on Creed lore could’ve enhanced my enjoyment of Creed III. So I’m going to do my best to provide that for you, the idiot layman. I’ve tried to arrange this roughly in order of most important to know going in to least.
Who Is Adonis Creed?
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who also directs Creed III, in his directorial debut) is Apollo Creed’s (Carl Weathers) son. Probably you know this part. Everyone calls him “Donnie” or “D.” I had vague memories of Donnie being sort of a privileged kid trying to prove himself in the first Creed, which is true, but also not the whole truth.
Which brings me to important fact #1:
-Donnie’s “mom,” Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), is not Donnie’s biological mom. Apollo had an affair (supposedly between the events of Rocky III and Rocky IV), producing Donnie. Donnie’s biological mother died, and Mary Anne, who knew about Donnie earlier but had shunned him, eventually adopted him from a youth detention center as a young teen.
-Donnie was mostly (but not entirely, which will become important in Creed III) raised at the Creed family’s lavish estate. He went to college and became a hotshot young finance guy, a cushy life he gave up in order to become a boxer like his dad. Mary Anne objected at first, and Donnie boxed under the last name “Johnson,” but she eventually relented, gifting him a pair of trunks like his dad’s with CREED on the front and JOHNSON on the back. Classic mom stuff, trying to write your name on your clothes even though you’re grown.
-Basically, Donnie was both a Dickensian orphan type AND a rich nepo baby at various points in his childhood, which affords the filmmakers a great deal of flexibility, but can be a little difficult the parse if you don’t remember the particulars.
-Donnie was an up-and-comer who won respect in Creed (a lá Rocky in the first Rocky). He was a champion facing a tough challenger in Creed II (a lá Rocky in Rocky IV), and now in Creed III… well, the movie will tell you that one.
Who Is Bianca? Why Does Donnie Know Sign Language?
When Donnie moves to Philadelphia to train with Rocky in Creed, he meets Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson. She’s an aspiring singer-songwriter in the beginning stages of progressive hearing loss.
In Creed II, Bianca and Donnie get engaged, Bianca scores a recording contract, and eventually gives birth to their daughter, Amara, who is deaf.
Mila Davis-Kent, a nine-year-old deaf actress, plays Amara Creed in Creed III, which you don’t really need to know going in, but Donnie’s mastery of sign language (ASL, to be specific) is a partial callback to Creed, when Bianca tells him she’s learning it for when she loses her hearing.
Who Is “Little Duke” Evers?
Tony “Little Duke” Evers is played by Wood Harris, Jr., aka Avon Barksdale from The Wire. You don’t especially need to know any of this, but Little Duke is the son of Tony “Duke” Evers (Tony Burton) who trained Apollo in Rocky I, and later becomes Rocky’s trainer in Rocky III.
Little Duke initially turned Donnie down when Donnie wanted to train at his Delphi Academy in LA, training Donnie’s opponent and spurring Donnie’s move to Philadelphia to train with Rocky.
In Creed II, Rocky and Donnie fall out after Rocky refuses to train Donnie to fight Viktor Drago (Ivan’s son), so Donnie goes to Little Duke, who becomes Donnie’s trainer.
Who Is Viktor Drago?
Viktor Drago is the son of Ivan Drago, who Rocky fought in Rocky IV. Viktor fights Donnie twice in Creed II, losing first by DQ after giving him an ass whooping, and later when his father heroically throws in the towel in the movie’s climactic fight.
Viktor is back in Creed III, though this backstory isn’t especially necessary to know. He’s played by Florian Munteanu, a German-born boxer/actor of Romanian descent whose boxing nickname was “Big Nasty,” which is fun.
Where Is Rocky Now?
Short answer: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Longer answer: Rocky was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Creed, and refuses chemo, but seems to be improving by the end of the movie. In Creed II, Rocky eventually teams up with Little Duke to help train Donnie for his second fight against Viktor.
Rocky’s absence is more of a behind-the-scenes business thing than a story choice. While Stallone seems to have a pretty good relationship with Michael B. Jordan and Creed I director Ryan Coogler, and publicly “passed the torch” of the franchise to Jordan at the wrap of Creed II, he has long feuded with franchise co-producer Irwin Winkler, whom Stallone has long accused of screwing him out of ownership. Upon reading about a planned spinoff about the Dragos without Stallone’s involvement, Stallone lashed out in a since-deleted Instagram post railing against “IRWIN WINKLER , this PATHETIC 94 year old PRODUCER and HIS MORONIC VULTURE CHILDREN, Charles And David , are once again picking clean THE BONES of another wonderful character I created without even telling me.”
The Winkler feud seems to have something to do with why Stallone doesn’t even have a cameo this time around.
Phew, Are We All Caught Up Now?
…I think so. Honestly, I’m not a huge continuity guy, and I’m kind of anti-continuity for the most part. There were just a couple things about Creed III that a refresher on the lore could’ve helped with. Ironically, Creed III is probably the least homage-y of the three movies — with Creed being a structural callback to Rocky, and Creed II being an even more direct callback to Rocky IV. But for my money, I’ll take “lore” over “Easter eggs” any day.
‘Creed III’ opens in theaters nationwide March 3rd. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can read more of his reviews here.