In today’s golden age of Hollywood revivals, few legacy sequels have been as successful as 2015’s Creed, which breathed new life into the Rocky franchise and embraced the nostalgia and sentimentality of its origin while still feeling new. Rarer still, Creed 2 managed to keep the momentum going and delivered a sequel every bit as good as its predecessor. Understandably then, Creed 3 has a lot to prove – arguably even more, considering it’s also leading man Michael B. Jordan’s first foray into directing.

Courtesy of MGM

It’s a series that has gone from strength to strength, largely due to how it explores its eponymous boxer’s compelling inner conflicts, but also in how it carves out foes that are just as formidable and nuanced as its hero. This time around, it’s Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors) who arrives to send Adonis’ (Jordan) life into disarray; they’re childhood friends, you see, basically brothers. Trouble found the pair young and Dame was incarcerated for 18 years. Now that he’s out, however, he’s vengeful and bitter towards the world that threw him out, and desperate for the title shot he coveted as an adolescent.

What these films do so well – what even the six(!) Rocky films did so well – is create tangible conflicts. Whether it’s Rocky avenging his best friend or Creed living up to his immeasurable name, there’s always a reason for these characters to fight. And perhaps no one has had more of a reason than Dame: he has a chip on his shoulder and feels like the whole world is against him. It’s a shopworn arc not unfamiliar within the sports genre, but the writing takes its time to set up who he is and what his relationship with Adonis was; they have a history and there’s love there, but there’s also wariness. It makes for an emotionally volatile and morally complex antagonist, rendering the inevitable showdown between Dame and Adonis all the more visceral and engrossing. Majors is a force to be reckoned with, saying so much with very little. His character exists in micro expressions and the silences between lines; it’s Majors’ subtle work that ultimately cements the character as a tragic and complex pillar.

Courtesy of MGM

Jordan, too, has never been better. He shines not only in front of the camera, but behind it too. The direction is propulsive and the first-time filmmaker wears his influences on his sleeve – the fights have a heightened sensibility about them, stemming from Jordan’s love of anime and those dynamic action sequences. While not all of the decisions work, and the boxing scenes are lacking in the intensity both Ryan Coogler and Steven Caple Jr. brought in their respective Creed films, Jordan takes his own approach to the material and makes Creed 3 feel distinctive from the pack. It may not be the tightest or most dynamic film in the franchise – though the bar was always going to be immensely high – but it’s still a worthy entry into the Creed legacy and, as far as directorial debuts go, Creed 3 packs quite the punch.

Creed 3 is out in cinemas now.