Review: If actor Michael B Jordan’s directorial debut was a prize fighter, he would be confident, nimble, ambitious and quietly menacing but a tad heavy-handed with his final touches. Written by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, Creed III pretends to brawl to a different beat than its predecessors, which pitted prodigal son Adonis Creed (Jordan) against superior competition inside the boxing ring and found a way for the emotionally scarred underdog to emerge victorious. Bone-crunching body shots and uppercuts are the least interesting facet of the third chapter of the franchise.
The script still orchestrates a high-stakes championship showdown for its crescendo but daring artistic choices during the final bout interrupt dramatic momentum and deliver the least thrilling resolution of the sweat-drenched trilogy. Greater narrative focus is placed on bonds between blood brothers here and Jonathan Majors – currently terrorising the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Kang the Conqueror – delivers a beautifully layered performance as a childhood friend who cunningly guilt-trips Creed into giving him a shot at a boxing title then bullishly takes full advantage once the gloves are on.
Screen rivalry with Jordan simmers and verbal exchanges between the pair pack as much force as the slickly choreographed fight sequences, which result in dislodged teeth, swollen eyes and badly bruised egos. One emotionally manipulative interlude, telegraphed in advance, crudely provides dramatic impetus for characters to exorcise their demons and resolve differences in the usual fashion: with their fists.
Adonis Creed (Jordan) retires from boxing as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world to devote more time to his musician wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). “I left boxing but boxing didn’t leave me,” he professes and Creed invests heavily in a gym to unearth the next generation of raw talent. This dedication to the sport, spearheaded by no-nonsense trainer Duke (Wood Harris), propels fighter Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) to the top of his class and a televised title defence against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).
Childhood friend Damian Anderson (Majors) resurfaces after an 18-year stint behind bars and Creed’s carefully ordered world fractures. Duke spots the warning signs and urges Creed to be wary of Damian – “He’s telling you who he is. Believe him!” – but almost 20 years of deep-rooted guilt cloud the former champion’s judgment. To settle an old score, Creed may have to step back into the ring but he is out of shape and nursing injuries.
Creed III is a slugfest between the title character and his turbulent past and Jordan excels, behind and in front of the camera. The script grinds out a satisfying spectacle over 12 rounds of male posturing and predictability, powered by muscular central performances. Although it fails to land a knockout blow, Jordan’s picture comes out swinging.
Find Creed III in the cinemas