Creed III movie review: Michael B Jordan’s brilliant boxing blockbuster hits home with power and urgency

Creed III movie review: Michael B Jordan’s brilliant boxing blockbuster hits home with power and urgency

Technically, this boxing drama is the ninth Rocky film but, for the first time in the series, Sylvester Stallone’s Philly pugilist is nowhere to be found. Yay! The franchise needed fresh blood and that’s exactly what new director, Michael B Jordan, and new cast member Jonathan Majors provide.

A little info, for those not familiar with every branch of the Rocky family tree. Back in 2015, the focus shifted to Adonis ‘Donnie’ Johnson, the illegitimate son of Rocky’s foe-turned-friend, Apollo Creed.

Creed rightly made director Ryan Coogler and his star, Jordan, household names and even with Coogler absent, the sequel (which saw Jordan’s Donnie taking on Viktor, the son of Rocky’s Russian enemy, Ivan Drago from Rocky IV), managed to satisfy punters and critics alike.

This blissfully fighty soap opera was always going to be continued. But the urgency and power of the latest instalment still comes as a surprise.

As mentioned, for round three Jordan has stepped behind the camera (incredibly, given the skilled execution, this is the first feature film he’s directed). And he’s cast Majors as Damian ‘Dame’ Anderson, an ex-con who’s known Donnie since they were kids.

Donnie’s happily retired and crazy rich (hilariously, he has the kind of serene live-in chef who just keeps on chopping during family rows). His wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson, enticingly three-dimensional as always), deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent, who is irresistible) and adoptive mother Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad; such a scene-stealer) are looking forward to a match between Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) and Donnie’s Mexican protoge, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez).

Michael B. Jordan, from left, Mila Kent and Tessa Thompson (AP)
Michael B. Jordan, from left, Mila Kent and Tessa Thompson (AP)

Guess what? It’s Dame who ends up in the ring. And soon it’s he and Donnie who are squaring off (still with me?).

The film delves into the traumas he endured as a child but the script (co-written by Ryan Coogler’s kid brother, Keenan) doesn’t make a meal of its politics or wallow in misery for cheap thrills. If you enjoyed the early works of Jordan and Majors (Fruitvale Station, The Last Black Man in San Francisco) you’ll relish this gritty take on how California dreams can get crushed.

Majors’ performance is electrifying. He’s bulked up and gives his character swagger, goofy charm and an ice-cold stare. There’s nothing like Dame when he’s seething, yet the character is at his most magnetic when his tired eyes well up with pain. I loved Majors as Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. But what he does here is in another league.

As a director, Jordan opts for lovely close-ups, as well as spectacular shots that emphasise the psychological aspect of the sport (at one point, the fans around the ring just melt away). If the two big battles aren’t as elegant and ingenious as the ones in Raging Bull or the original Creed, they’re so immersive it barely matters.

Jonathan Majors (AP)
Jonathan Majors (AP)

And let’s not forget the OTT montages, such a definining characteristic of this series. Donnie punches trees, as a celestial-sounding choir urge him on. What did trees ever do to Donnie? Nothing, but it’s all in a good cause.

Fast and furious, Creed III is as wry and touching as the first Rocky movie and one of the best films of 2023. There’s no way the series will be counted out at this point. But if it was, what a way to go.

116 mins, cert 12A

In cinemas from March 3