Creed III review: The series returns with another knockout blow

We get a clue from one of the film’s many quick jokes, where we see a movie poster featuring a wizened old man struggling to lift a pair of boxing gloves. Above him, a stack of Roman numerals reveals that this is the star of Rocky XXXVIII. What the comedy writers didn’t foresee was the invention of the spin-off franchise.

Technically, this is Rocky IX but, for the first time, Rocky is not seen. Boxing’s underdog formula needed a refresh, and 2015’s Creed was a rush of fresh air.

The gritty tone of the original Rocky resurfaced when Stallone’s Rocky mentored Michael B Jordan’s Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of his nemesis-turned-friend Apollo Creed. After a nostalgia-fueled second round (2018’s Creed II awkwardly replicated the beats of cheesy Rocky IV), the series returns with another knockout.

Jonathan Majors’ poignant villain Kang is the only interesting thing about the new Ant-Man movie. And he delivers another nuanced performance as Adonis’s childhood friend and former boxing ace Damian.

Adonis is a retired champion when he sees Damian looming over his luxurious engine. The last time he saw him was during a violent incident that led to Damian’s 18-year imprisonment.

Creed agrees to help Damian get his career back on track, not realizing that his old friend still holds a grudge. You don’t need to see the trailer to know that the two will end up working out their issues in the ring.

The film daringly blurs the line between plucky underdog and grumpy villain. You may suffer from conflicting loyalties in the climactic showdown, but the choreography is thrilling and the human drama surprisingly moving.

This franchise could still hit double digits.

  • Creed III, Cert 12A, in theaters now

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