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Creed III review – Michael B. Jordan delivers a knockout threequel

The actor and now director plays the essential Rocky hits, all while confirming Jonathan Majors as Hollywood's Next Big Thing

For a lot of first time directors, a film with a scope and reach as wide as Creed III might make for an overly daunting debut. Not so for Michael B Jordan. With two performances as Adonis “Donnie” Creed already under his belt and having clearly taken plenty of lessons from regular collaborator Ryan Coogler, Jordan makes a very confident jump behind the camera, delivering an unavoidably generic but still completely irresistible new entry in the Rocky series.

We reunite with Donnie having retired from boxing as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, splitting his time between running his own gym and boxing franchise and raising his daughter alongside his music-producer wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson). It’s a comfortable position, even with a bit of stress caused by an upcoming title fight due to feature one of Donnie’s sponsored boxers, but one that is thrown into turmoil by the reappearance of a face from Donnie’s past.

This is Damian (Jonathan Majors), introduced first as a teenager in a really excellent flashback and then as an adult having just been released from an 18 year prison stint for a petty crime that Donnie was involved in but got away with. Wracked with guilt, Donnie is eager to try and make things up to Damian, but Damian’s not-unjustified bitterness and resentment sours this reunion pretty swiftly.

We already know how compellingly watchable Jordan and Thompson are as the faces of this series, and they continue to be so here, but it’s Majors who steals the show in his second appearance as the intimidating antagonist of a franchise threequel in the span of just a couple of weeks. A coiled spring of anger and menace, backed up by a terrifyingly colossal physique, Majors’s Damian is Travis Bickle by way of The Hulk, impossible to take your eyes off and easily the best villain of the Creed trilogy. It’s a testament to his performance that his presence completely distracts from the absence of Sylvester Stallone for the first time in this nearly 50-year-old franchise, the world of Creed III never feeling anything less that fully complete.

Of course, it’s also a testament to Jordan’s direction, which is as forceful and exciting as you’d want out of a blockbuster sports movie. He’s made no secret of how heavily his favourite anime influenced the film’s superb fight sequences, and the two genres fit perfectly together, every bout thrilling and visceral. The in-between stuff, especially when Majors isn’t on screen, is less convincing – Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin’s script mostly just hitting the requisite “boxing movie” beats to get us to the next fight – but these showdowns are so great that you forget your nitpicks the instant they start.

Creed III doesn’t exactly break new ground for the genre – if you’ve seen a boxing movie before, or the rather over-sharing trailers, you know exactly where this is gonna go, from the backstory, to Damian’s heel turn, to the emotional final showdown – but it really doesn’t matter. As both director and star, Jordan knows that if you’re going to just play the hits, you’ve got to make sure they’re the fastest, hardest hits possible and that’s exactly what he does. From its tremendous action to its undeniable confirmation of Jonathan Majors as Hollywood’s Next Big Thing, Creed III is a knockout.

Creed III is released UK cinemas on 3 March.

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