Creed 3 review: "Michael B. Jordan keeps the formula fresh"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Michael B. Jordan keeps the Creed formula feeling fresh with a confident directorial debut that's also 2023’s second threequel supercharged by a Jonathan Majors antagonist.

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Are there any films as contagious as boxing movies? If you’ve skipped out of the last two Creed movies bobbing, weaving and jabbing the air, Creed 3 will hit like a precision uppercut of sports-movie satisfaction.

The original Sylvester Stallone-fronted Rocky franchise ran for six movies over 30 years: all scripted by Stallone, with most sequels directed by him too. Rocky’s almost entirely absent from Creed 3 (save for a couple of mentions), and here Michael B. Jordan follows in Sly’s footsteps by taking the helm, making his directorial debut.

While Jordan might be just beginning this phase of his career, Creed 3 finds Adonis Creed (Jordan) nearing the end of his time as a professional boxer. Having conquered the sporting world, undisputed heavyweight champ Adonis lives in a luxury mansion in LA with wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent). As he prepares to leave the ring to step back from the sport, a figure from his past re-emerges, meaning that retirement might not be quite so imminent...

The Rocky/Creed saga – and boxing movies more generally – have always traded on formula. There’s a nearly inviolable structure that the genre demands: to see how wrong things can go when you discard it, look no further than 1990’s Rocky V. Even if you haven’t seen the detail-heavy trailers, you know that before the final bell sounds, the two main characters will have gone toe to toe in a championship bout. You’d bet your belt on it. So it all comes down to how satisfying a film you can make within the accepted parameters.

Jordan proves himself an assured hand behind the camera. True, Creed 3 plays to the aforementioned structure, and follows the style guide established by Ryan Coogler in Creed. But Jordan still makes some shrewd decisions – thematically, visually – that make Creed 3 thoroughly entertaining. No small feat, considering the potential pitfalls of diminishing returns.

While the film might occasionally miss Philadelphia pugilist Rocky’s punchy philosophical idioms, it’s a credit to Jordan as director/star that Rocky’s absence isn’t too keenly felt; his Creed II fist-bump sign-off ("It’s your time") having legitimised his exit in story terms. And this story is very much Donnie’s, as his latest opponent gives him plenty to tussle with inside and outside the ring (drawing poignancy from his own background, rather than Rocky’s). The traditional underdog element is flipped: this time it’s the rival clawing his way up against the odds.

Tessa Thompson as Bianca and Michael B. Jordan as Adonis in Creed 3

(Image credit: Eli Ade/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

In an efficient bit of storytelling, an opening flashback sees Donnie and older pal Damian Anderson embroiled in an incident; Dame’s carrying a gun, which lands him in prison. Eighteen years later, newly released Dame (now played by Jonathan Majors) is back on the scene and looking to make up for lost time.

"I kept myself in shape," he says (with no small understatement). "I’ve still got gas in the tank." With one hell of a chip on his Hulk-proportioned shoulders, Dame is out to collect from Adonis what he thinks he’s owed: a title shot. Time behind bars, tormented by the knowledge his old friend has been living out his dream, has made him dangerously hungry for his chance.

Majors – currently cementing himself as a generational talent – is a force to be reckoned with. Damian is the most compelling antagonist Donnie has faced. There’s some nuance to Dame’s backstory, but he’s also thrillingly dangerous when he needs to be, and a credible physical threat. 

Yes, the mechanics of his path to being a contender are far-fetched, but that comes with the territory. The screenplay, by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, invests the conflict with more subtlety than you might expect, given that this is ultimately a crowd-pleasing sports movie rather than a gritty parole drama.

Similarly, Thompson’s Bianca is still awarded more character development than you might have feared from what could be a side-lined supporting role. Yes, her story is secondary, but her own compromised dreams are considered, as her progressive hearing loss sees her embrace a shift in own career. She also helps Adonis to unpack past complications, while still understanding that, in this universe, some problems can only be solved by a pummelling in the ring. Daughter Amara brings a pleasing additional dimension to the Creed family.

But none of this would matter a great deal if Creed 3 didn’t hit the spot with the fight scenes. Jordan and his collaborators find visually inventive ways to bring new life to the matches, without sacrificing any of their bruising intensity. Throw in the obligatory workout montage (parachute-running! Climbing-rope pull-ups! Treepunching?!) to get the blood pumping further, and the overall effect is hard to resist. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to punch the air…

Creed 3 is out in cinemas on March 3. For more upcoming films, check out our breakdown of 2023 movie release dates.

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Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.