Directed by: Michael B. Jordan
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Keenan Coogler, Zach Baylin
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Jose Benavidez, Phyllicia Rashad
Released: March 2, 2023
Grade: B+

Creed III

Whether real or manufactured, rivalries are a big part of sport.  They create interest and generate money.  The highest attended home-and-away AFL game each year takes place on ANZAC Day with traditional adversaries, Essendon and Collingwood, facing off in front of roughly 90,000 people.  I could list oodles of other examples such as Australia v. England in test cricket or Barcelona v. Real Madrid in Spanish football.

For the past 45 years, the Rocky and Creed film franchises have tapped into that crowd-pleasing concept with solid results.  Creed III, which marks the directorial debut of 36-year-old star Michael B. Jordan, is more of the same.  The opening act introduces a new character, the middle act establishes the rivalry, and the final act brings them together in the boxing ring for a bruising finale.  Yes, it’s formulaic but if you’ve got the right actors and a credible storyline, you’ll get audiences to buy in.

Creed III familiarises us with Damian “Dame” Anderson (Majors), a boxer who was full of potential as a teenager but saw his career halted after being sentenced to 18 years in prison for an armed assault.  Having just been released, Dame is keen to make up for lost time and enter the professional ranks in the biggest way possible – with a shot against reigning heavyweight champion Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez).  To borrow a line from the film – “everybody loves an underdog.”

So where does the now retired, mansion-living, suit-wearing Adonis Creed (Jordan) fit into the picture?  It turns out he and Dame were close childhood friends and, despite having some reservations, he helps organise the unlikely bout as a “favour” to settle a long-standing moral debt.  It’s not the most convincing of set ups.  Adonis goes to extraordinary lengths to help his friend (a title fight on debut) but is then disappointed when he finds early success.  Why?  Other attempts to create tension between the pair in the second act (a punch out of nowhere) also feels rushed.

All of that said, the film comes together nicely with a well-paced, energising climax.  Parts of it borrow from the well-worn textbook – lengthy musical montages where boxers jog in front of landmarks and flip large tyres on the beach.  Other parts try to break away from the mould – an interesting, crowd-free sequence which depicts rounds 3 to 11 of the final bout.  A few of the supporting players (e.g. Adonis’ mum) don’t get much to work with but both Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors are terrific in the lead roles and help elevate the not-always-perfect script.

Sylvester Stallone did not reprise his role for this instalment.  As stated in an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, he wasn’t a fan of the screenplay and its darker tones.  He’s entitled to his views but Michael B. Jordan is now the lifeblood of this franchise and his work, both in front of and behind the camera, will keep fans engaged.