Creed III, the ninth instalment in the remarkably enduring Rocky franchise, is the first not to feature Sylvester Stallone’s wizened title character. It’s also the directorial debut of superstar actor Michael B. Jordan, who makes his third appearance as Adonis Creed, son of Rocky’s longtime rival Apollo Creed. Jordan clearly understands the franchise inside out, because he delivers a slick and gripping film that hits the right emotional beats on the way to a suitably high-stakes climax. You’ll probably miss Rocky, but only sporadically and not to the point of distraction.
The script by Zach Baylin (King Richard) and Keenan Coogler (brother of Creed and Black Panther director Ryan) is efficient rather than inspired. Set seven years after the events of Creed II, it begins with Jordan’s title character enjoying a comfortable retirement. His own boxing legacy is secure, so he is now focused on promoting his chosen successor, Felix Chavez (real-life boxer José Luis Benavidez Jr.). Creed’s singer-songwriter wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is also navigating a new phase of life as progressive hearing loss means she is concentrating on producing music rather than performing live. Their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), who is deaf, is having a few issues at school, but this potentially interesting subplot is forgotten about before the finish.
The main event here is the surprise arrival of a ghost from Adonis’s past: Damian ‘Dame’ Anderson (Jonathan Majors), his former teenage bestie who has just resurfaced after an 18-year stint in prison. Before he was sent down, Dame was possibly an even more talented boxer than Adonis. Now he is out, he desperately wants to make up for lost time by returning to the ring and claiming the sporting glory that he had to watch Adonis punch his way to, time and time again.
It’s surely no spoiler to say that because Dame is holding the mother of all grudges, everything leads to an emotional 12-round showdown between the two bruised frenemies. Naturally, there are some brilliantly ludicrous training montages along the way, including one where Jordan is seen towing a small plane – he really does understand this franchise inside out. Sadly, there is also the odd narrative wobble. When a significant supporting character is killed off in a shameless bid to raise the emotional stakes, it feels crass and unnecessary because the Adonis v Dame rivalry is compelling enough on its own.
If that is the film’s Achilles heel, then its not-so-secret weapons are some eye-poppingly exciting boxing scenes and fully committed performances from Jordan and Majors, who really does seem like a wildcard who’ll do anything to win. Creed III isn’t quite a knockout, but only a fool would come away questioning whether this seasoned slugger of a franchise has more rounds left in it. Bring on Creed IV.
- Director: Michael B. Jordan
- Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson
- Release date: March 3 (in cinemas)