Let me be very clear: You cannot, will not ever get me to root against Jonathan Majors.

Pit him against Apollo Creed’s kid? I root for a Creed concussion. Set him against Ant-Man? I am team “Kill That Bug with a Magnifying Glass.” Put him against Loki? I hope the trickster God gets his Norse neck in a noose. Yes, Majors cuts a brilliant, scene-chewing baddie, always screwing up his face while rasp-whispering cheeseball dialogue into poetry. I want him to win. I am disappointed when he loses. Please, for the love of Pete (Davidson, Buttigieg, or any other), make this man a good guy more often.

“Creed III” is the latest failed attempt to get me, and presumably others, to cheer for someone punching Jonathan Majors in the face. Picking up at the tail end of the storied boxing career of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the franchise has finally un-Rockyed itself. No longer beholden to the Balboa legacy, Adonis faces a wholly original opponent from his own past with nary an Italian Stallion in sight.

Three years into his retirement, Adonis is now mentoring and promoting other boxers. Until Damien (Majors) is released from prison. He immediately demands a title shot, which is an odd thing for someone who has never boxed professionally to demand. The way he sees it, he did nearly 20 years in prison for an incident that Adonis precipitated. Before that, he was the highest ranked amateur boxer ever. Adonis is living Dame’s life, and he wants it.

Other than the laughable attempt to make humans cheer for someone fighting against Jonathan Majors, “Creed III” has three main problems. First, it is suspense free. Everyone everywhere who has ever seen a single boxing movie ever knows every beat that will be hit and every hitter that will be beat. Second, it asks for some truly insane suspension of disbelief. The logic that “if Apollo gave Rocky a shot, why can’t Adonis give Damien a shot” is like saying “if planes can fly, why can’t I flap my wings hard enough to reach the sun?” Third, the film discards its supporting cast to unnecessarily reiterate a very uncomplicated conflict. Everyone immediately understands why Adonis and Damien did what they did and why they “have to” fight now. You don’t have to keep slow-motioning about it.

That said, this testosterone telenovela knows what it is, delivers what it promises, and concludes with a gorgeous and uniquely staged final bout. As a first-time director, Jordan shows exceptional prowess, with the possible exception of thinking his character is more interesting in any capacity than Majors’s. Films of this sort are comfort food, with all the artistry in the finishes and toppings.

It’s not perfectly executed by any means. Tessa Thompson deserved some kind of character arc. The script fumbles Dame’s core redeemability. The training montage forgoes the franchise’s legacy of introducing silly, weird exercises. But the punches pop, the franchise feels freer without Stallone’s shadow, and Majors masters melodrama yet again. Next time I see him, I better be encouraged to cheer for him, because I’m gonna do it anyway.

Grade = B

Other Critical Voices to Consider

Amon Warmann at Empire says “Jordan’s direction is solid throughout, the boxing sequences drawing on his love of anime — especially evident in the final bout, which features epic slo-mo, Dragonball Z-esque punches and some impressively stylised imagery. Should there be more ‘Creed’ sequels in future — and on this basis, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t – that’s exactly the sort of freshness that the franchise could do with more of.”

Travis Hopson at Punch Drunk Critics says “The problem is that it doesn’t feel like Adonis is fighting for anything. His conflict with Dame, which could have been solved with a phone call, lacks weight which is why, after their battle, it is dismissed with a single conversation. They do wage one Hell of a war on one another, though.”

Carla Hay at Culture Mix says “For better or worse, ‘Creed’ (which has a total running time of 116 minutes) takes its time in exploring issues such as urban poverty, social class prejudices, and African American male experiences in friendships, rivalries and the criminal justice system. It’s a lot of issues to cover, in addition to bringing back previous ‘Creed’ movie characters and their storylines, introducing new characters, and showing a different side of Adonis without fundamentally changing who he is.”

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