Marking not just the continuation of the franchise, Creed III is also Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut and the first Rocky spin-off not to feature Sylvester Stallone’s iconic character. Leading up to its release, this caused speculation about the fate of the Italian Stallion, with many believing it could be one of the most significant films in the franchise. Whether this is true remains up for debate, but it’s certainly clear that Creed III offers a glimpse at what might still be to come for the titular Michael B. Jordan character.

Following on from the events of Creed 2, it concerns a recently-retired Adonis Creed after his childhood friend Damian (Jonathan Majors) is released from prison. After relaying his plans to continue boxing after a hiatus of almost two decades, Damian gratefully accepts Adonis’s help. However, by refusing to confront his past, the retired champion overlooks the lengths that his former friend is willing to go to for his dream, and finds himself drawn back in to the sport he thought he’d left.

As the ninth film overall in the Rocky franchise, Creed III had a mammoth task to accomplish. Not only did it try to find something original to say after eight solid predecessors (well, maybe seven – Rocky V was more than a little iffy) but it had to do so without Rocky Balboa’s presence. So how exactly does Creed III weigh up?

Creed III’s Story Finally Moves Past Rocky Balboa (& That’s Perfect)

Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed in Creed III (2023)

We’re huge Rocky fans here at Corner of Film, and Creed III was one of our most anticipated movies of 2023. That’s all because of the hype surrounding Stallone’s exit from the franchise and the sequel moving ahead without the Italian Stallion. With Adonis Creed’s story now the sole focus, Creed III is free to stand or fail entirely on its own merit.

Creed III embraces this idea fully, delving into Adonis’s past in a way that Creed and Creed 2 did not. This allowed its story to feel like a natural progression of its predecessors, adapting to the absence of Rocky without so much as a missed beat. It may seem callous, but it was absolutely vital for the success of the film (and the franchise).

The thing that helps Creed III work is actually one of the core tenets of its story: the boxing world moves fast. The heroes of the past quickly fade away, and the idea of moving on is at the film’s heart. This softens the blow of Rocky’s absence by dealing with it subtextually. It’s a very well-written idea that helps the film feel an organic continuation of the franchise.

Creed III Can’t Seem To Move Past Rocky Franchise Clichés

Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed training in Creed III (2023)

Though it may have moved on from Rocky as a character, Creed III still uses too many of the same tired clichés. Though some of these are undoubtedly a necessary evil (for consistency, if nothing else), they do hurt the supposedly grounded ideals of the film. Where Creed felt like a slightly more realistic approach to the franchise’s boxing stories, Creed III has fallen into old habits. Its story relies on rather large leaps of logic that anyone familiar with the sport of boxing will see through immediately.

What’s worse, trying to recycle the franchise’s perpetual underdog trope may prove problematic for the future. By stacking the odds against Adonis, Creed III essentially writes the franchise into a corner. Though the film delivers a poignant ending, it’s hard to see any way to organically continue Adonis’s story, and there’s no obvious narrative routes for another sequel or spin-off.

Creed III’s Cast Deliver Solid Emotional Beats, But Its Script Feels A Little Stiff

Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors in Creed 3

Michael B. Jordan delivers yet again with another sound performance as Adonis Creed. Jonathan Majors plays a complex and occasionally sympathetic villain. Tessa Thompson underpins it all by playing Adonis’s emotional sounding board. There’s not a performance out of place, and yet something seems off.

Despite some interestingly realized set pieces and innovative fight scenes proving Jordan has a knack for directing, Creed III is far from perfect. In many places, its script simply doesn’t sell what it needs to, with characters speaking or acting in ways that simply don’t make sense. Plot holes and illogical developments only serve to undermine the performances of Creed III‘s cast, which is a shame. Ultimately, it seems to be a running theme with the film: it’s good, but it’s not that good. It manages to achieve what it needed to, but little more.

Rating: 70%

Summary: Delivering all the familiar thrills of a Rocky movie, Creed III proves that the franchise is in good hands. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s solid sports drama.

Highlight: Taking a new approach to Creed III‘s big fight scene leans into the film’s emotional core, proving both genuinely exciting and visually striking.