In 2021, I met Jonathan Majors through a zoom interview I was conducting for Awards Focus. When his camera turned on, he was laughing with someone off-screen and then told me that he had his body fat percentage calculated and was in the single-digit percentile. He smiled broadly in that signature cheeky, wholesome grin. He was in training for a role and was almost at his goal physique.

Majors was preparing for Creed III. That training is evident about midway through the film as his character Damian “Dame” Anderson, walks toward the boxing ring in nothing but waist-high boxer shorts. Pectorals pulsating and abs protruding, this man was training to fight.

In its third installment, Michael B. Jordan takes the reins of the Creed franchise from Ryan Coogler and steps into the director’s chair, following Sylvester Stallone, who directed four of the Rocky movies. In an assured directorial debut, Jordan extracts terrific performances from Tessa Thompson, returning as Adonis “Donnie” Creed’s musician wife Bianca and, most potently, the man-of-the-moment Jonathan Majors. Majors delivers an impressive, sincere performance that rejuvenates the franchise with a swagger brewing explosively and confidently restrained.

But, before the training montages featuring airplane hauls and brutal boxing matches, we have some exposition. As the film opens, we meet a young Adonis (Thaddeus James Nixon Jr.) who sneaks out to join his older friend Dame (Spence Moore II) at a local underground boxing match, where Dame knocks out his opponent in the first round. Dame has the potential to be a heavyweight champion, but when Adonis and Dame stop at a convenience store on the way home and Adonis gets into a fight, there’s a hint that something has gone awry in this trajectory.

Flash forward to the future, and Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis is living a life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills post-retirement and is training the next generation of fighters at his own gym. Adnois’s wife Bianca is exploring her career as a music producer, his mother Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad) is recovering from an illness, and his daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) is exceeding at school, albeit with some conflict resolution problems. As Adonis leaves his gym where Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) prepares to represent Adnois’s brand at a heavyweight title match, Dame reappears, leaning eerily on Adnois’s car. Dame has been in prison for 18 years, hasn’t heard from Adnois, and wants his chance to get back in the ring.

What starts as two old friends reconnecting and Adonis bringing Dame to train in his gym, much to the chagrin of coach Duke (Wood Harris), eventually dissipates into a battle of control. Dame is hungry to utilize his skills and needs a chance to get his life back on track. He is on the older side of boxing but is determined to go for the title finally. As Dame, Jonathan Majors bounces with energetic ambition. But, as he spars with Chavez, a spring in his step suggests unease as simmering tensions overflow against almost two decades away from the ring. Adonis never wrote to Dame, though Dame wrote to him in letters hidden by Mary-Anne. It’s as though Dame is positioning his grief at opportunities lost into accelerated advancement. The man wants to fight and win.

The screenplay by Keenan Coogler (brother to Ryan) and Zach Baylin tends toward the sentimental, creating tension between Adonis and his family to project him into the ring one more (last?) time. Midway through the film, Dame confesses that he is coming for everything that Adonis has worked for, and this is enough for Adonis to fight for everything he has achieved, only it feels more like ego than incitement. Dame could be all talk, and he could perhaps never fight again, but Adonis takes the threat to heart and tells Bianca he must fight for their lives. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely convinced. What’s at stake is Adnois’s reputation more than anything, and it’s representative of how he sees himself rather than what others will think of him.

While the tension isn’t organic, it sets the stage for Jordan to stretch his directorial muscles. The fights in the ring, shot by cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, are just as thrilling as when Ryan Coogler introduced the reboot/spin-off with Creed. A final conversation between Adonis and Dame is shot intimately, allowing the emotions of the final bout to be explored and felt. At the end of it all, a friendship was built and lost, so what remains when the fight is over? Creed III may also be Tessa Thompson’s best performance in the franchise as she tries to stay connected to Adonis and shield their daughter Amara from the darkest sides of the fight.

Just last week, Michael B. Jordan and Amazon announced they are in talks for a universe expansion of the “Creed” boxing world across film and television. Of course, Jordan is just getting started, but let’s hope the amplification doesn’t saturate a revived franchise that continues exceeding expectations.

Letter Grade: B+

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