By Lynn Venhaus

Equal parts salty, sweet, silly, sentimental, scary, and strange, this third chapter spotlighting freaky misfits saving the universe is a very busy mixed bag in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

Legendary Star-Lord Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) leads his rag-tag team through life-and-death situations, all in superhero service of protecting good galactic folks under siege. This time, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) wants to rule the universe by controlling all living things. Sure, it’s a lofty goal, but many obstacles are in the way, and inevitably, there will be an epic battle between good and evil. (We’re not allowed to divulge much)

The best part of these grandiose Marvel Cinematic Universe series is the chemistry of the superheroes, and having this motley crew back together one more time has deepened their ties, softened their tough exteriors, and created playful exchanges that enhance what is a dense and convoluted story.

Earth-born Peter Quill leads a rascally turbo-charged group that includes a hulking Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista, who is endearing as a gentle giant), intuitive Mantis (Pom Klementieff, lively as a smart and sweet says-it-like-it-is sentinel), intimidating Nebula (Karen Gillan, whose bark is worse than her bite), the versatile tree monster Groot (voice of Vin Diesel, who is able to morph into a number of effective sizes and shapes), and a sarcastic racoon named Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper as a big-brained, no-nonsense warrior). Zoe Saldana returns as an alternate Gamora, which is better left unexplained (No spoilers from me).

Does anyone remember the plots other than bickering and banter between the Guardians, gnarly ginormous figures wreaking havoc, chaotic flights and fights through space, and clever needle drops that make characters shut up and dance?

This third outing is quite complicated: Rocket’s origin story, Ravagers show up with some key characters, and then a power-hungry maniacal villain called The High Evolutionary messes with species and is focused on wiping out civilization.

Merry band of misfits

The action, while often well-staged with choreographed slow-motion and quicksilver derring-do, has the usual repetitive litany of explosions, flying chunks of concrete, interstellar mayhem, and grotesque creatures to become mind-numbing. The film feels every bit of its 2 hours and 30 minutes run-time.

Director James Gunn, who co-wrote the script with his writing partners on the other two, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, has again stamped his devil-may-care attitude on this quirky comic book series, but also built up the found family theme

The elaborately designed spacecrafts and hub of activity known as the Knowhere outpost seem to layer on excessive visual effects.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 was a breath of fresh air in the superhero realm, and the second one in 2017 capitalized on the original’s charm, laying on the kitchy pop culture. While Gunn retains his puckish sense of adventure, he has added more emotional beats this time around.

Newcomers include Will Poulter as Adam Warlock and Elizabeth Debicki as his mother Ayesha, characters introduced in the comics but not explained well here, and Maria Bakalova is the voice of the funny Cosmo the space dog. And Chukwudi Iwuji makes an impression as the flamboyant mad scientist who goes increasingly over the top.

For this final time, Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Dave Bautista as Drax are the standouts, creating a delightful comical dynamic.

But one of the bigger missteps is that this film is rated PG-13, for there are many elements that will frighten youngsters, especially about animals in cages.

The movie starts rather raggedy but ends with genuine emotional beats, and staying through the credits is a must. Also, it helps to be familiar with the other two.

When this overstuffed finale is hitting the right notes, it’s an earnest tug on the heartstrings, but because the story so often shifts tones and is stretched so thin – too many people! – overall, it’s frustrating.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a 2023: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Action, Adventure film directed by James Gun and starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Sean Gunn and Maria Bakalova
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references, and thematic elements and run time is 2 hours, 30 minutes. Opens in theaters May 5. Lynn’s Grade: C+

Will Poulter as Adam Warlock

By Alex McPherson

Ambitious but held back by genre conventions, Michael B. Jordan’s directorial debut “Creed III” features great performances and viscerally engaging boxing sequences, while sidelining its more thoughtful ideas to a fault.

Continuing the story of Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Jordan), the son of Rocky Balboa’s rival-turned-friend Apollo, “Creed III” sees our hero encountering ghosts from his past entering the literal and figurative arena. We begin with a flashback to 15-year-old Adonis (Thaddeus J. Mixson) sneaking out of his mother’s house to watch his best pal Damian Anderson (Spence Moore II) compete in a local Golden Gloves competition.

Damian, a boxing prodigy, dreams of one day becoming the world heavyweight champion. His hopes come to a screeching halt as Adonis starts an altercation with someone outside a liquor store. Damian is arrested in the ensuing scuffle, spending 20 grueling years behind bars, and Adonis gets away.

Seven years after the events of “Creed II,” Adonis announces his retirement from boxing to spend time with his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), who’s now a music producer; his deaf daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent); and his adoptive mother, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad).

A few years later, Adonis runs a boxing academy, training his new protégé, Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez), for a title shot against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), with the help of the gruff, wise Tony “Little Duke” Burton (Wood Harris). Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, such a pivotal presence in the previous “Creed” films, is nowhere to be found.

Everything seems to be working out quite nicely for Adonis. He’s rich, with a happy family, and has secured his place among the boxing legends. What he isn’t ready for, regardless, is a reckoning with his past. Damian (a scene-stealing Jonathan Majors) shows up outside his gym unexpectedly, looking to make up for lost time. Adonis and Damian’s interactions are awkward, mixing flashes of their former camaraderie with creeping unease and resentment. Damian, as it turns out, isn’t so thrilled about Adonis’ success, and wants to finally realize his goals through whatever means necessary.

Adonis — bottling up feelings of guilt, trauma, and diminishing self-worth — must confront this symbol of his past and make peace with it for good. This involves an eventual heart-to-heart (or, rather, fist-to-face) in the place most conducive to resolving conflict: the boxing ring, in front of boatloads of rabid fans.

Indeed, for all of Jordan’s high-minded aspirations, “Creed III” ultimately plays it safe, pitting Adonis against a frustratingly limited antagonist reverting back to a predictable formula, and using its layered themes as window-dressing for seen-it-before spectacle. It’s still entertaining, though — delivering the bruising set-pieces, extravagant training montages, and reliably solid performances we expect, albeit not breaking free of tradition to deliver a KO.

As a directorial debut, “Creed III” is impressive, with Jordan competently helming the action and giving actors plenty of room to flex their chops. The boxing scenes themselves remain the highlight; cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau puts viewers right in the thick of it, giving each punch a tactile sting. Jordan also uses slow-motion to emphasize their raw impact and the considerations behind each jab, while being unafraid to take a more “artistic” approach in visualizing the boxers’ inner thoughts during climactic showdowns. The film gets quite brutal at times, leaving viewers with both feelings of cathartic excitement and, perhaps, a bit of exhaustion. 

Outside the ring, “Creed III” is far less stylish, with muted color grading and conventional framing of dialogue-heavy scenes, interspersing flashbacks to that fateful day in Adonis and Damian’s history. Joe Shirley’s score is chock-full of memorable tunes and recurring motifs, which help propel the proceedings along and lend even the less successful moments a distinct identity.

Jordan continues to shine as Adonis — depicting his range as a loving father, devoted husband, yet someone whose ego and sense of “masculinity” affects his willingness to be vulnerable. Despite his lavish home and outward appearance of strength and happiness, Adonis is battling self-doubt regarding his accomplishments, exacerbated by Damian’s re-emergence and subsequent manipulation.

Having already watched Adonis ascend through the boxing ranks and manage his father’s legacy (a central theme of the previous films), it’s interesting, in theory, to watch him grapple with his fame, and recognize just how easily it could have gone the other way — although this introspection leads (unsurprisingly) back to the blunt boxing ring, the ultimate mediator. Majors proves a worthy foil in Damian, bringing a jumpy, volatile energy ensuring him and Jordan are always engaging to watch interact onscreen, ignoring the script’s clunkiness.

Thompson gives characteristic gravitas to Bianca, who plays an ancillary role to Adonis’ arc but faces her own challenges; having progressive hearing loss, she’s had to stop her singing career. Davis-Kent (who’s deaf in real life) holds her own alongside Jordan, Thompson, and Majors — making the most out of a role that’s ultimately setting the stage for a “Creed” spinoff down the road.

The bulk of the film’s issues stem from the framing of Damian as an over-the-top adversary. Damian’s a damaged man, looking for retribution against his childhood friend: they grew up together, but he took a vastly different life path, largely due to chance. With this backstory, Damian should be easy to sympathize with, but “Creed III” too often sways to extremes — depicting Damian as a taunting and merciless individual who, at times, seems less like a flesh-and-blood human being than a “big bad” for our (flawed) lead to vanquish.

By the end, “Creed III” largely eschews the moral ambiguity that was initially so interesting to deliver the usual thrills and avoid deeper insight into both Damian and Adonis’ psyches; in the end, it lacks the emotion that might take it to another level. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but considering the talent involved and a premise begging for more depth, the cast deserves better — especially Majors, whose versatility as a performer isn’t fully capitalized on.

For most viewers, however, “Creed III” will suffice, if not exceed expectations. The fundamentals are all there, but this story could have used another bout of training.

“Creed III” is a 2023 sports action-drama directed by Michael B. Jordan and starring Jordan, Jonathan Majors, Tessa Thompson, Mila Kent-Davis and Wood Harris. It is Rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language and runtime 1 hour, 54 minutes. It opened in theaters March 3. Alex’s Grade: B-.

Michael B. Jordan as Adonis Creed

By Lynn Venhaus

The formula is familiar and the plotline predictable in “Creed III,” but there is an authentic undercurrent between the heavyweight stars Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors playing childhood friends turned professional rivals.

Adonis (Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life, but when a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy resurfaces after a long prison sentence, Damian Anderson (Majors), the face-off is more than just a fight.

The third chapter sadly doesn’t feature Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, but returning castmates include Tessa Thompson as Adonis’ pop-star wife, Wood Harris as trainer “Little Duke,” Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago, and Phylicia Rashad as Mary-Anne Creed.

The mainstay of the Rocky-Creed films is the family legacy thread, and screenwriters Keenan Coogler (original director-writer Ryan’s brother) and Zach Baylin (“King Richard”) lean heavily into it. The face-off between former friends seems more contrived than typical. The melodrama is hyped up as Adonis’ future is on the line and “Dame” has nothing to lose.

However, Jordan, as first-time director, keeps the action fast paced and the obligatory training montage as well as fight scenes intense. Both lead actors are in commendable shape, and the boxing benefits from their commitment.

The subplot about hearing loss is an admirable point – and Jordan’s and Thompson’s sign language is flawless. That part about a family seemingly on top of the world dealing with struggles gives the film a heart-tugging element.

The original “Creed” in 2015 was rousing crowd-pleasing entertainment, lovingly crafted by director and co-screenwriter Ryan Coogler. The underdog boxing story had plenty of Easter eggs to the “Rocky” series.

If you don’t remember it, or the follow-up in 2018, you can still enjoy this film, but it does help to get up to speed about the back story. Last time, Adonis Creed, the son of the legendary heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, faced the son of his father’s boxing foe and killer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren in “Rocky IV”) in the sequel, with Donnie taking on Viktor in a story about not escaping your past and family is everything. Real Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu returns as Viktor in a small role in “III.”

That theme continues here, as a retired Adonis is grooming Felix Chavez (Jose Benavidez) to be the next champ. He’s pulled back into the ring through a series of unfortunate events. He’s living large, but potshots in his direction are taking an emotional and mental toll. Dame is eager to take his shot and has something to prove.

Looming large is the absence of Stallone, the heart and soul of the franchise since the Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser “Rocky” in 1976. He’s played Rocky eight times, and it’s unfortunate they had no place for him in round three, because his presence is needed. He is the anchor, and not only earned an Oscar nomination for the first “Creed,” but elevated the second one.

Nevertheless, the supporting cast is convincing in their roles. Thompson excels as Adonis’ wife Bianca, and Mila Davis-Kent is endearing as their smart, headstrong daughter Amara.

This doesn’t have the same impact as Coogler’s original, nor does it have the sentimentality. He didn’t direct the second one, as he was too busy with “Black Panther,” and here, he just supplies the story and produces.

Jordan not only is up for the physical challenge of playing Adonis, but also the emotional complexity, and with Majors at the top of his game, the conflict has some bite to it.

Majors, who was noteworthy in early work – “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “Da 5 Bloods,” and “The Harder They Fall,” with his acclaimed performance in last year’s “Devotion” and now as Kang the Conqueror in the Marvel Cinematic Universe making him one to watch, is impressive as Dame. He takes a one-note role and commands the screen.

The music score is a worthy addition from Joseph Shirley, and the soundtrack pulses with urgency.

The tech work is superb, with sharp cinematography by Kramer Morganthau, who worked on the second one, and slick editing by Jessica Bacesse and Tyler Nelson. Production designer Jahmin Assa has created quite a crib for the Creeds and contrasts the past with the present effectively.

Is there enough juice for another one? Will the audience keep coming back? Time will tell.

While it isn’t a knockout, “Creed III” packs enough of a punch for those seeking another chapter in this 47-year-old story and an abundance of contemporary action.

“Creed III” is a 2023 sports action-drama directed by Michael B. Jordan. It stars Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors, Wood Harris, Mila Davis-Kent, and Phylicia Rashad. It is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language. Run time is 1 hour, 56 minutes. It opens in theaters on March 3. Lynn’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus
The lengthy hunt for a sicko responsible for torturing, raping and murdering multiple teenage girls, known as “The Truck Stop Killer,” deserves better than the poorly executed “Midnight in the Switchgrass.”

An undercover FBI agent (Megan Fox) teams up with a Florida state police officer (Emile Hirsch) to investigate a string of unsolved murder cases.

This true-crime thriller involving a long-haul trucker living a double life, Robert Ben Rhoades, here known as Peter (Lukas Haas), had the potential to be an absorbing drama, but first-time director Randall Emmett, although a veteran producer, and rookie screenwriter Alan Horsnail serve up a plodding standard operating procedural. They fumble with erratic pacing and cookie-cutter characters.

Nevertheless, Hirsch’s earnest, intense performance as Pensacola lawman Byron Crawford stands out in the tall prairiegrass.

But don’t expect a decent turn from Bruce Willis, who is merely window dressing as a jaded FBI agent close to retirement, Karl Helter, who verbally spars with fellow investigator Rebecca Lombardo on intent and methods.

They are teamed to infiltrate sex trafficker rings, but Lombardo, a convincing Fox, stumbles onto the trail of a mass murderer. Fox’s character is committed to caring about the victims, mostly “invisibles” – runaways, prostitutes, hitchhikers, drug addicts, and thinks their lives matter.

That concern is shared by Crawford, who goes rogue when another young woman’s body is found, this one with the same bite marks that he has seen on other victims. And then when a prostitute is killed at the Oasis Motel, he thinks it is the guy that was planning to meet Rebecca, who had engaged “BigRigGlory” online. The pair set up a sting that goes horribly wrong.

The filmmakers have moved the real serial killer’s location from Texas to Florida. Haas, who broke through as the young Amish boy in “Witness,” actually starred in “Alpha Dog” with Willis and Hirsch before, but has no interaction with them here.

Naturally, we get a glimpse of him as a loving family man, doting on his daughter Bethany (Olive Elise Abercrombie), at his remote homestead. A shed on his property is where he shackles his victims and tortures them before discarding their bodies. Haas is creepy as the sadistic pervert, but the story’s predictability doesn’t help. Although the escalating cat-and-mouse game builds in suspense towards the film’s resolution, that in itself is rather abrupt.

Fox, who met her current boyfriend, Machine Gun Kelly, on the set – he plays an abusive pimp, using his real name of Colson Baker – conveys street smarts and a dedication to her job, while hinting at a troubled life.

The supporting cast includes Sistine Stallone, Sylvester’s daughter, as Heather, the sister of a missing girl, Tracey, well-played by Caitlin Carmichael, who handles a harrowing escape with real grit.

Welker White is moving as one of the dead girls’ mothers, Georgia Kellogg, who is visited by Crawford.

The music is maudlin and despite Hirsch’s interesting portrayal, not much distinguishes this from a “Dateline” episode.

“Midnight in the Switchgrass” is a true crime thriller directed by Randall Emmett and starring Emile Hirsch, Megan Fox, Lukas Haas and Bruce Willis. Rated R for violence and language throughout, its runtime is 1 hour, 39 minutes. It is in theaters and available Video on Demand on July 23 and released on DVD and Blu-Ray July 27. Lynn’s Grade: C.
Lynn’s Grade: C