There are few things more satisfying than watching performers push each other to deliver their best work. The 1970s brought out the best in De Niro, Pacino, Hackman, and Duvall. In the 1990s, Hanks and Denzel ushered in a new era of dramatic performance. Today, it’s clear that two young actors are making an indelible mark on Hollywood. Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors are here to stay. Their first feature together, Creed III, releases this weekend and will surely be a smash hit. The only question is whether we acknowledge how quickly this as the monumental moment of generational talents clashing.
After winning the heavyweight championship belt, Adonis Creed (Jordan) lives a life of luxury in Los Angeles. He hung up his gloves, but he continues to organize fights. He cares for his wife (Tessa Thompson) and daughter (Mila Davis-Kent) while keeping the gym open. One day, a ghost from his past waits at the car. Damian Anderson (Majors) served for more than a decade after defending Adonis as a teenager. A boxing prodigy in his own right, Damian wants a run at the title, despite his status as an unknown. His efforts to make it happen put Damian and Adonis in opposite corners of the ring.
In Creed III, the battle between Majors and Jordan becomes more than just subtext. It’s interesting to see the effects each has had on the industry in such a short time. Both actors have found themselves on the outskirts of the Oscar race despite incredible performances. Jordan nearly scored an Oscar nomination for Black Panther after its release in February 2018. This February, Majors emerged as The Avenger’s next foe in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Both earned critical success at the Sundance Film Festival. The two showcase raw, emotional performance styles that can be controversial in their own right. This duo continues to take over Hollywood, and Creed III literalizes their reach for the championship belt.
Jordan steps up to the director’s chair this time out, making his debut with a surprising eye for visual storytelling. Most actors-turned-directors try to limit how showy they get in their first few swings. Jordan immediately places the ethical dilemma on the audience, forcing us to connect with the men merely by spending time in their physical proximity. It’s hard to categorize Majors as a villain, as Jordan paints the character with so much empathy, one might wonder if he’s secretly pulling for the newcomer.
Meanwhile, Majors takes every moment on screen to steal the film from his co-star and director. Majors’ charm initiative in 2023 borders on the absurd. He brings comedy to every role but never lets it feel out of place. Majors allows himself to get awkward, but the emotional outbursts he releases never feel out of place in Creed III. He’s a man on a mission, and Majors imbues humanity into the monomania that consumes Damian.
The two performers are so dominant, you might even forget Creed III resulted from Rocky spin-offs. However, Jordan constructs Creed with enough commentary about recidivism and the ways jail takes far more than time from our lives. Between Jordan, the Cooglers (Ryan and Keenan), and Zach Baylin, the screenplay pulses with tension. The trilogy of films has seemingly been leading to this moment, and shifting Creed out of Philly allows us to embrace the impact of policing on the lives of black men. To take away a life when a person is a teenager is an aspect of cruelty that cannot be fully understood.
As the two thespians circle the ring, Jordan lets the pace of his film really come into focus. While there are sequences that over-extend themselves (far from uncommon in first-time directors), Jordan keeps the freight train rolling. The boxing scenes are gorgeous until the final act’s difficult CGI comes roaring to life. However, the sequence also contains one of the very few expressionist moments in the Rocky franchise.
Creed III is a perfect “see it with the family” semi-adult film you can sell to your grandmother. The performances are great, it’s not overly violent, and it’s mostly enjoyable. Well-shot and well-paced films often go a long way simply by existing. It’s doubtful that Jordan is about to begin a journeyman director, but with Creed III, he’s proven to have the talent.
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