Jonathan Majors Creed III

Jonathan Majors proves he’s a star in Creed III

3.5 out of 5 stars

Creed III opens with a flashback. Adonis Creed has barely emerged from childhood when, in the middle of the night, he sneaks out of bed to join his friend Damien Anderson at a late-night boxing competition. The young Creed is doting and reverential; he offers encouragement and advice, ingratiating himself to the older boy who acts as a teasing older brother. Damien’s life seems ready to blossom; he’s already one of the most decorated Golden Gloves fighters in history. By the night’s end, though, a gun is pulled outside a convenience store, redirecting his dreams. 

Back to the present time, Adonis has retired from boxing. He runs a gym and trains future champions. Increasingly divorced from the streets, the fighting industry now occupies his attention. In his directorial debut, Michael B. Jordan paints a world plastered with signs; a Beverly Hills home overlooking Los Angeles, a towering Ralph Lauren ad, and a man cave adorned with belts. The dream and intimacy of the ring, the panting, sweating and strategy are an increasingly distant memory.

Yet, after nearly 20 years in prison, Damien (Jonathan Majors) returns. When he first appears, he’s leaning against Adonis’s luxury vehicle. His face is slightly puffy, and his body language feels defeated. Taking pity on his old friend, as waves of guilt wash over him, Creed takes him out for dinner. For the first time, Damien tells Adonis what he wants: to be the champion of the world. 

Creed III Michael B. Jordan
Michael B. Jordan in Creed III

Creed knows it’s not so simple and prefers to use Damien as a punching bag for his most profitable talent. Though the rags-to-riches underdog story is built into the American ethos (and the Rocky franchise), Adonis flattens his humble origins, leaning into his pedigree and success. The arrival of Damien not only unearths old guilts and resentments but threatens the new image he’s created for himself. Starting from the bottom may have worked for Rocky Balboa, but poverty, incarceration and desperation signal a social ugliness that’s better left concealed for a Black American. Adonis instinctively feels that his rags-to-riches story doesn’t inspire in the same way as his non-Black peers. He’d rather keep that part of himself hidden until he’s locked into a corner by circumstances beyond his control.

The fights and rivalry between the two lead actors are electric; Michael B. Jordan has a keen sense of drama, heightening emotions to an almost cartoon-like spectacle (he’s very open about anime being a huge influence on his work). Jonathan Majors as Damien is an incredible foil, part conniving villain and part industrious everyman, and he goes through chameleon-like transformations to serve his goals. Though often, from Adonis’s perspective, he can be comically evil, the writing and Majors’ performance complicates who we should be rooting for. As Adonis finally comes out of retirement to face off against his old friend, it’s unclear if we even want him to win.

For all its strengths, though, Creed III only sometimes works. Outside of the fight scenes, the film needs a consistent vision. The melodrama feels forced, and though the interactions between Adonis and his deaf daughter are strong, the conflict between him and his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) feels shallow and empty. Though the movie hits all the right cartoon beats, it lacks the emotional punch and formal risk of its anime roots. The momentum of the fight scenes (as well as some of the WWE-level banter between Adonis and Damien) can’t sustain the most flaccid emotional drama. 

Yet, considering this is Jordan’s directorial debut, he shows promise. He seems to understand how to populate a world with markers of his character’s inner world. The fight scenes are impeccably crafted, drawing not only on the heightened visuals of instant-replay culture but on the more outlandish action of anime. The final fight, in particular, is a masterclass in playing with tone, atmosphere and character. 

If anything, though, Creed III demonstrates the power of a big screen in smaller-scale dramas. Though sports films have long been the domain of crowdpleasers, as multiplexes are increasingly dominated by weightless superhero films (that increasingly fail to attract bored audiences), the beauty and majesty of watching bodies in motion highlights the poverty of the general moviemaking experience. 

Creed III (directed by Michael B. Jordan)

Creed III opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 3.

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