Stinking rich boxing promoter Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) swaps the bling for the ring when his childhood friend (Jonathan Majors) gets out of prison looking to beat the best, such is his right as a character in a Rocky film.
Creed III has the heavy weight of eight films on its broad shoulders, as well as being the first Rocky movie to not feature the former world champion (not counting the numerous instalments where Sylvester Stallone forgot how to play him). But Balboa’s presence is not missed, and this is still very much a Rocky picture, packing all the births, deaths and barrages one expects from the 50-year boxing saga.
Creed’s rival Damian even has a Mr. T-like swagger to echo Rocky III, with Majors bringing major intensity to the role. His chemistry with Jordan tells you more about their shared history than the repetitive and ultimately unrevelatory flashbacks, creating an interesting Blood Brothers dynamic. Jordan and Tessa Thompson’s chemistry also remains strong, giving her dreams separate from her husband’s career and limiting the obligatory spousal bickering to the question of teaching their deaf daughter (Mila Davis-Kent) to box. Although that storyline tails off, it makes a nice change from the usual arguments over the hero’s decision to fight.
That said, this is one occasion where Creed does need to be talked out of stepping back into the ring, since he has literally no reason to do so. Damian has a semi-legitimate grievance but Adonis has nothing against him nor anything to prove, and it is unclear why we should root for the wealthy promoter over the underdog. Yet he accepts Damian’s challenge immediately and without deliberation, leading to a rushed final fight where it is up to the commentators to explain that the atmosphere is extremely tense, actually. This makes for an anticlimactic conclusion to an enjoyable setup, with Jordan capably adding director to a list of illustrious titles including Adonis Creed, Erik Killmonger and (to a lesser extent) Johnny Storm.
Despite its ropier elements, Creed III succeeds where Rocky movies must: bare-knuckle drama and visceral fight scenes, its Raging Bull slow-mo and bloody-mouthed belting putting on a real Rocky horror picture show. But the narrative shortcomings suggest the moment has come for Creed to throw in the towel, so if it is setting his daughter up as a female Rocky, then it’s ’bout time.