Los Angeles Times

A heavyweigh­t cast of fighters

- Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

not all that compelling beyond what the actors bring to the role. Where “Creed III” really starts to stir to life is in the introducti­on of Jonathan Majors as a figure from Donnie’s dark and violent childhood.

Damian, a.k.a. Dame (Majors), was a big brothertyp­e to Donnie, and a rising star in boxing, but when a fight at a convenienc­e store got out of hand, Donnie ran and Dame went to prison. He’s turned up now, 18 years later, hooded and squirrelly after his years behind bars, but still chomping at the bit for his own chance at the belt. Donnie’s reluctant to back him but harbors guilt that his friend had his dream deferred, while his were fulfilled beyond his wildest dreams.

“Creed III” makes good use of the inherent qualities in each of its leading men: There’s something rather sweet, innocent and noble in Jordan’s persona, which is put to good use as Donnie struggles to do the right thing, while Majors always seems like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. There is something intrinsica­lly sorrowful in Majors’ countenanc­e, and as Dame, he emanates a kind of wounded anger that makes him want to hurt someone, not “box” with focus and control.

If “Creed III” tells us anything, it is that Majors is the heir apparent to Marlon Brando; his angry, resentful Dame, a bruiser with a chip on his shoulder, is in direct lineage from Brando’s Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront.” Majors fully embodies the character, from his South-Central accent, his clipped cadence and hunched posture slowly unfurling as he becomes more confident and powerful, thanks to his own machinatio­ns and Donnie’s guilt-ridden enabling.

But while Dame is the far more fascinatin­g character, Donnie is our hero, and the film proceeds as such, with dueling training montages and snowy white boxing shorts taking the symbolic place of a hero’s white cowboy hat. Coogler and Baylin’s screenplay isn’t all that innovative with the sports movie formula, and it unfortunat­ely tends to rely on characters plainly spelling out their inner monologues, rather than leaving it to subtext.

But Jordan’s steady direction elevates the material, keeping a strong hand on the tone and emotional tenor. Cinematogr­apher Kramer Morgenthau (who also shot “Creed II,” directed by Steven Caple Jr.) brings fluid camera movements and an appealing use of practical lighting, imbuing the film with motion and texture. Jordan takes a big creative swing during a climactic title match, experiment­ing with a subjective fantasy sequence. It doesn’t entirely pay off, but it’s nice to see him color outside of the lines with the risky maneuver.

But what Jordan does best as star, director and producer is showcase Majors’ heavyweigh­t performanc­e, cementing him as one of our brightest stars. Taking over a behind-the-scenes role is a part of the “Rocky” legacy, and Jordan takes the reins with ease, championin­g Majors and heralding an exciting new chapter of his career, beyond “Creed.”

 ?? Eli Ade MGM ?? JONATHAN MAJORS plays the complicate­d character Dame, who longs to box after years in prison.
Eli Ade MGM JONATHAN MAJORS plays the complicate­d character Dame, who longs to box after years in prison.

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