"I left boxing, but boxing ain't leave me."
There is no denying the power that is Jonathan Majors. After becoming the talk of Park City with his performance as Killian Maddox in Elijah Bynum's Magazine Dreams, the actor introduced the cinema world to Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. And now the rising star has completed the trifecta, giving us another captivating performance as Damian Anderson in Creed III.
The film, which marks the directorial debut of star Michael B. Jordan, takes place almost three years after Jordan's Adonis Creed fought his last fight. Retiring a champion, he spends his days managing the gym, cultivating a pathway to success for Felix Chavez, the perceived future of the sport.
But life doesn't always work out the way you plan. Adonis is living proof of that.
Slick and stylistic from start to finish, Creed III excels in its visuals. The stunning view of Los Angeles from Creed's Hollywood Hills mansion sets the bar early, complimenting the interior shots of the boxing star's childhood home where Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad) still lives. But the real luxury lies in the subtleties of each scene. Many come from the perception of money, a stark contrast to the life Adonis could have lived had he not been rescued from the group home. This perception shapes the story, and through flashbacks, we learn of Damian Anderson, a brother to our hero who disappeared behind bars almost two decades ago.
Majors gives life to Anderson, who we meet leaning against a car outside Creed's gym. The interaction is initially intense before Adonis puts the pieces together. But that excitement is short-lived as things rarely are as they seem, and grudges often possess an emotion that hinders one's ability to see straight.
Part sports thriller, part family drama, Creed III effortlessly blends genres as it works to tell another chapter in the complex and rigorous career of one of the world's greatest boxers. Forced to confront his past for the sake of his future, Creed plays to emotion, growing soft with retirement as he feels for a former friend who didn't catch the breaks needed for success. Though he blames himself, the film's constant theme calls into question our responsibility for the lives others lead.
In this way, the latest entry in the Creed franchise is authentic and human. Working with real emotions, Adonis must face his demons and contest his past as he is forced out of retirement, challenging Anderson to a fight to preserve his legacy and control a monster he feels responsible he unleashed.
Admittedly, the film struggles to find its tone at times. Never fully succumbing to the underdog story, we often feel we only get half the tale. Maybe that's intentional. Adonis has a history of keeping many at arm's length, including his wife Bianca, played flawlessly by Tessa Thompson. But something is missing that keeps the emotions at bay as the film's eventual outcome never feels in question.
Still, Jordan and Majors prove quality opponents. Physiques aside, the actors complement one another beautifully, countering each's every move as they navigate the rough terrain that is their past. Majors artistically encapsulates a painfully misunderstood villain longing for redemption after sitting idle while someone else lives out his dreams. Jordan, on the contrary, showcases a matured Creed who, regardless of money and opportunity, easily gets triggered by the buried trauma that lays dormant inside.
As the marque fight begins amidst a sold-out crowd at Dodgers Stadium, you can't help but relish the moment. Rocky debuted in 1976, almost 47 years ago. And though we can harp on the lack of ingenuity or some questionable editing decisions, Creed III is a solid film that works within the confines of the franchise. Superbly acted and stylistically shot, if nothing else, it reminds us that sometimes simple and straightforward works best.