A Revelatory Performance for an Up-and-Comer

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Jonathan Majors has been quietly impressing for a while now, in such films as The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Da 5 Bloods, as well as a starring role in the TV series Lovecraft Country. But most people probably know Majors less for his credits, more because he’s downright scintillating. Just look at the shoot he did for Men’s Health and try to make it back here in one piece.

Yes, Majors is mind-bogglingly attractive in ways that leagues of scientists are working around the clock to figure out. While good looks can help you earn coveted leading roles—I don’t think there are many industries in the world as obsessed with seemingly unattainable appearances as Hollywood—it’s a whole other thing to command attention with pure talent. Majors breaks through the gift that is his body to deliver not just impressive work, but also the kind of jaw-dropping stuff that makes you wonder just how many awards are in the man’s future. (I’m willing to bet on “a lot.”)

Majors has delivered greatness not once, not twice, but three times in 2023 so far. First, he stunned at Sundance with Magazine Dreams; then there’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and, most recently, Creed III. And it’s only the beginning of March! Another remarkable piece of information: Creed III opened this weekend as #1 at the box office, meaning Majors has starred in back-to-back box office champions. I’m ready to call it: 2023 is the year of Jonathan Majors.

Majors’ first film of 2023 is the one the fewest have seen thus far: Magazine Dreams, which premiered at Sundance in January. The film is an unrelentingly tense story that follows Killian Maddox (Majors), a man who dreams of being a world-famous bodybuilder, adored the world over for his physique. Majors seems like a no-brainer to play a bodybuilder based on his stature alone—he’s probably the most muscular actor since Schwarzenegger stunned the world in Pumping Iron.

In the film’s opening scene, stage lights glimmer off his extraordinary musculature—if you can name a muscle, Majors has it, and it looks perfect. He stands onstage, going through his flexes, showing off muscles I never even knew existed.

Jonathan Majors in Magazine Dreams.

Glen Wilson

But it was not his body I found myself staring at. Instead, I couldn’t look away from his face, which showed me Killian’s entire world. Facial acting is so important, as looks really do tell us so much more than words ever could. But Majors has a way of telling us a million things with a slight contortion or a simple glance. Immediately through his eyes, you can feel that bodybuilding is absolutely everything to Killian; nothing else matters. It’s majestic to witness.

Majors is also adept at showing off Killian’s serious rage, which makes him stand out from his competitors in all the wrong ways. He’s never successful in his endeavors, which only makes him try harder. Despite a physique that would make you think he’s got extreme confidence, Killian barely has any social skills; combine that with a deteriorating mental state and propensity for anger, and you’ve got a nerve-shredding experience, where you never know what Killian will do next.

Magazine Dreams hinges on Majors’ performance, which is frightening and awesome in its power. He’s got a real gift for playing complicated people, and I can’t think of other recent films that have a character like Killian in the starring role. What’s especially impressive is that, in a film where the actor’s body is on full display for a significant amount of time, you never find yourself gawking at Majors’ beauty. All you can think about is who the person is behind the muscles.

A hugely successful (and sure to be widely acclaimed) performance in an indie would be more than enough for most performers, but Magazine Dreams was just the start for Jonathan Majors in 2023. His next major performance found him joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

As the film kicks off Phase 132 (…wait, it’s only Phase 5? Haven’t there been 1,000 superhero movies by now?), Majors has landed a vital new role. He is Kang the Conquerer, whom the film sets up as the next Big Bad to replace Thanos. We’ll be seeing an awful lot of him in the MCU over the coming years, and if Quantumania is any indication, we’re in for a real treat.

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Jay Maidment

While Quantumania tries to do an awful lot, where it does succeed is by having Kang come off like a serious threat. We see Kang briefly in the first scene, but he’s mentioned multiple times before he returns. We hear of the destruction Kang is capable of and that everyone in the quantum realm seems to fear him. This gives Majors a large task: to convince audiences when we finally get some time with him that he is as menacing as people say.

And wow, does he deliver. I’m so used to comic-book villains being loud and highly expressive, but Majors takes an unexpected route, bringing quiet to Kang’s voice. There’s a stern timber behind it, however, which commands your attention and creates more of a sense of malice than screaming ever could.

Kang is a ridiculous character in concept. A single person that can obliterate universes and entire timelines seemingly at will? Sure, Jan. However, Majors is convincing enough to make you believe this guy really could obliterate everything you’ve ever loved. When Kang takes some time to ponder his own incredible power and complicated past, so much flashes through Majors’ eyes—rage, distress, hope, excitement—delivering more of Kang’s past in ways that endless exposition could never fulfill.

After that movie-making performance, Majors now stars alongside Michael B. Jordan in Creed III. And if you thought the last two roles were impressive, his work in this one is a real knockout. (I’m not sorry). If, for some reason you don’t like boxing movies, Creed III is worth it for its great performances and epic anime-inspired fights (yes, really). If none of that appeals to you, then surely the two of the hottest men on Earth beating each other up will do it for you. There’s really something for everyone.

Jonathan Majors stars as Damian Anderson in Creed III.

Ser Baffo

Majors plays Damian Anderson, who was Adonis Creed’s (Jordan) best friend when they were younger. But it was Anderson who was the boxer, not Creed. After an incident, the friends’ lives went in different directions: Damian went to prison, while Creed became world heavyweight champion. But now, Damian is out of jail and wants Creed—now retired—to help him get a shot at the title.

When Creed first sees his friend after being apart for so long, Damian lays on the charm, wearing a smile wide and bright. But there’s an immediate sense of resentment that Majors conveys through his expressions: Creed has everything Damian wanted, and he thinks that’s tremendously unfair.

In a particularly great scene, Damian comes to visit Creed at his home, awestruck by the incredible wealth his friend has amassed. On the rooftop, Damian brings up their past in the group home—specifically an experience with bed bugs. While Creed has moved on from that trauma, Damian’s quick to reiterate how much it affected him: “I can’t forget them bugs.” It’s a striking moment that reveals Damian’s insecurities, still weighed down heavily by his past. You can’t quite tell if Damian is about to break down crying or lunge across the table and attack, and it’s precisely that air of mystery Majors creates that makes his character so tantalizing.

Majors’ performance only gets better as we understand Damian more. There’s a particularly intense scene that takes place on a beach, with Damian possessing the power he’s been dreaming of. It’s a precise, controlled performance that also feels fearless, and Majors is clearly up for absolutely anything, and it’s riveting to watch. Damian, like Majors, is uninterested in convention, and keen to do what’s necessary to achieve greatness.

“As someone whose own abs have been hidden since I knew where to look for them, marveling at Majors is even more perplexing—and delightful. ”

As someone whose own abs have been hidden since I knew where to look for them, marveling at Majors is even more perplexing—and delightful. The training montage has become a staple of the Rocky universe, and Creed III ups the ante with a double montage from both Creed and Damion’s perspectives. There is one moment that is so unbearably steamy—I won’t ruin the surprise, but it involves ropes, and you’ll know it when you see it and thank me later—that I almost forgot that Majors is a generational talent. But I didn’t forget, you see: he’s just that brilliant.

It’s a blast to watch Majors in Creed III, as it invites you to enjoy what an immense talent Majors is—while also lusting over his physique. Nobody has ever looked so good in a grey sweatshirt. And hey, while you’re at it, look at Michael B. Jordan too. Creed III is a veritable buffet of biceps, and it knows it.

Just a few short months into 2023, Majors has done what so many have dreamed of. He’s delivered three tremendous performances, establishing himself as one of the most formidable performers around. And he’s looked damn good while doing it. I, for one, am ready for a major Jonaissance.

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