Magazine Dreams review: intense Jonathan Majors performance powers visceral drama

Jonathan Majors flexes his acting (and literal) muscles.

Jonathan Majors posing in silhouette in Magazine Dreams
(Image: © Sundance)

What to Watch Verdict


  • +

    A stunning Jonathan Majors performance

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    Strikes a balance in feeling and fearing for troubled protagonist

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    A transfixing watch


  • -

    Ending of the movie tries to touch on too many issues

Jonathan Majors has been building his star power these last few years, and in Magazine Dreams he flexes his muscles (both in the acting and literal sense) in a movie that attempts to take a look at a variety of issues involving mental health, masculinity, violence, racism and more. Magazine Dreams may not succeed in nailing all of its points, but Majors carries it through with an intensely powerful performance that will floor you.

Written and directed by Elijah Bynum (Hot Summer Nights), Magazine Dreams follows Killian Maddox (Majors), an amateur bodybuilder who struggles with making personal connections and appears to suffer from mental health issues. While bodybuilding gives Killian something to focus on, the combination of steroids and a pursuit of perfection pushes him toward the edge.

Credit to Bynum for creating the character and working with his star on him, but Majors takes over the movie from the get go. Beyond the insane physical transformation required for the role, Majors gives a performance unlike any other in his career to date; both tragic and terrifying. While the character can at times appear unhinged, Majors is in complete control. 

Many of Majors most widely-seen roles in his career thus far have had some genre trappings to help engage the audiences. Lovecraft Country (for which he was Emmy-nominated) was a sci-fi series from HBO; The Harder They Fall is a fast-paced western alongside Idris Elba and Regina Hall; Devotion is a war movie. He is great in all of these performances, but Magazine Dreams proves that he can draw you in with nothing but his God-given abilities.

Look no further than the two scenes where Killian attempts to connect with women, played by Hayley Bennett and Taylour Paige. In the first instance he delivers a monologue that turns what began as a promising date into an unsettling experience for Bennett's character and the audience. Then later, while Paige's beauty could easily take center stage, it is impossible not to be mesmerized by how puny Majors makes his bodybuilder feel in a situation he is uncomfortable in. 

The juxtaposition of those two scenes emphasizes how at times you feel for Killian because of his obvious struggles, but then can be put off by his oblivious or toxic personality. Majors plays both sides of Killian with incredible skill.

While we stay almost exclusively with Majors' Killian throughout the course of the movie, it bites off a bit more than it can chew with some of its storylines. The first half of the movie, as we see Killian try and fail to keep his struggles with mental health and violent impulses in check as he pursues bodybuilding glory, works with little issue. 

It's the final act of the movie where it throws the kitchen sink at us, bringing in elements of gun control and mass shootings, racism and police brutality and positions of power. The movie is able to pull it off to an extent, as all of these elements work within the context of the character, but one wonders if the movie would have been improved by drilling down a more into one of these areas rather than trying to fit them all in and give them equal space.

Even so, Magazine Dreams is an intriguing character study of a man that at one minute can seem infantile and then in another imposing, pushed to these extremes by varying circumstances.

With Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, where he plays new Marvel big bad Kang the Conqueror, and Creed III, Jonathan Majors is on the precipice of superstardom. Magazine Dreams, though, seems destined to be a movie cited as an example of the full range of Majors' talents.

Magazine Dreams premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. No details are currently available for its general release.

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd (opens in new tab).