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Almost 50 years since Sylvester Stallone first chugged down his raw eggs and did cardio through the market streets of Philadelphia, the franchise spin-off; Creed, is back in theaters for a third installment. Creed III marks the first in the series that Michael B. Jordan has both starred in and directed. But it is also the first iteration to not include Rocky himself. M&F takes a non-spoiler look at whether there’s still life in boxing’s biggest movie series, post Sly.
I probably wouldn’t be writing this review for Muscle & Fitness if I hadn’t been introduced to the Rocky movies as a child. It’s core message: The idea that any of us, no matter where we start out in life, can work towards our potential is an idea that goes beyond cinema, or sports. There are countless people that have gone the extra mile, or taken themselves outside of their comfort zone as a result of the lasting effect that the Rocky Balboa has had on their psyche. In my day job, interviewing todays crop of super successful athletes and actors, it’s rare to talk to someone who doesn’t mention that they were permanently impacted by either Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Pumping Iron” or Sylvester Stallone’s iconic turn as “Rocky.” And yet, with “Creed” now entering its third chapter, we must say goodbye to the “Italian Stallion” and hello to the maturing Adonis Creed.
While Stallone does not appear in “Creed III” itself, and is only mentioned by name just once in the entire two-hour movie run time, I’m reminded of something that Stallone said in the closing moments of “Creed II,” that makes perfect sense in retrospect. Choosing to stay outside of the ring as his student-done-good celebrated a triumphant win over Viktor Drago, the legend uttered “It’s your time now.” It certainly is, and here’s why:
In his hat and leather jacket, bouncing a ball around the port of Philadelphia and making ends meet between fights with cash-in-hand jobs as the muscle for a local loan shark, Rocky Balboa was a reflection of the economic climate in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Adonis Creed, however, brings entirely new cultural and social issues to bare. And yet, both characters underpin the same message in that where you start out in life does not necessarily to dictate where you end up. Just as there are parallels between the lives of Balboa and Creed, so too are their parallels in the actor’s real-life personal journey’s. For Creed III, Jordan followed in Sly’s footsteps by fulfilling both acting and directing duties for the first time. “Just evolution. Growth,” said Jordan of stepping it up, on the red carpet in Los Angeles. “Acting for as long as I have, you know, you start to develop an opinion of, like, how things go and you want to be even more creative, exercise different muscles, you know what I’m
saying? So, for me, it’s been very transformative over the years and doing something I’ve never done before. What can I learn? How can I grow? That’s what I did.” For Adonis Creed to grow as a fully rounded character, it was necessary for Jordan to take the helm.
No one has done more for the sport of boxing on celluloid than Sylvester Stallone. Who can forget the double knockdown between Rocky and Apollo in “Rocky II,” or the violence of “Rocky IV” that sent Stallone straight to intensive care, for real, when he and Dolph Lundgren punched the living daylights of each other in a clash that put a mirror on the Cold War. Then, in his final match for 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” movie, Stallone went full circle and scaled back the theatrics to bring the fight scenes back to reality, using camera angles and choreography that presented a more authentic feel, just as though it were a real bout shot live for HBO pay-per-view. Those scenes won back critics and drew a roadmap that was replicated in “Creed I” and II, so when Jordan began telling people that he’d been inspired by anime action sequences when putting the fights together for “Creed III,” many fans were understandably nervous.
“Yes, I wanted to take some creative swings because it’s the ninth movie over the saga,” said the young star, speaking on BBC’s Graham Norton Show. “I had to lean on my love of Japanese animation. And the themes of that, that kind of make this one look creatively, visually, look different.” The traditionalists among us will be pleased to know that there are no exaggerated flying dragon punches, or fireballs thrown, in these new fights however. Instead, Jordan has brought new life to the ring entrances of the fighters (look out for an awesome Day of the Dead inspired ring walk from Felix Chavez played by welterweight, José Benavidez Jr.) and he has also taken great care to highlight finer details of the boxing experience, such as close-up shots of the damage that is done in the ring, and an added emphasis placed on the fighters ring attires, gloves, and facial expressions.
We must accept that Sylvester Stallone can no longer be the focus of the epic training montage scenes that he pioneered not just the Rocky movies, but for other films to borrow from, like “The Karate Kid,” “Kickboxer,” and countless others. Still, it’s good to know that with Michael B. Jordan, the testosterone levels stay sky high as the movies heads towards a gripping climax in the ring.
Jordan worked with his long-time trainer Corey Calliet to bring the best version of Adonis Creed yet to the screen for this third installment, and the two make for a winning combination. When I talked to Calliet following the release of Tom Clancy’s “Red Notice: Without Remorse,” the trainer provided some unique insight into what makes Jordan one of
the most motivated actors in Hollywood. “Mike would get back from set at 2 or 3 a.m. and we’d go downstairs right to the gym for a workout, and then he can go to sleep,” he shared. “That takes pride in yourself because you want (to do the best work) for yourself.”
In “Creed III,” our hero must face up to his past when challenged by former Golden Gloves champion Damian “Diamond Dame” Anderson (played by man-mountain, Jonathan Majors) who was his childhood best friend, but whose life was taken down a less fortunate path. “This film is not about one man fighting another for a world title,” said Jordan in a press release. “It is about challenging yourself and proving to yourself that your existence is legitimate, that you deserve your blessings, moving with grace for yourself and for others. Believing that you are who you say you are, and all that you’ve done actually matters.”
Behind the thumping soundtrack and the glare of the ring, Rocky has always been more about the hopefulness of the human spirit than the individual punches thrown. And, while it would have been nice for lifelong Stallone fans such as myself to have been granted just one small cameo of Balboa, perhaps cheering his protégé on from behind a television screen, the undeniable truth is that the gloves have officially been passed over to Michael B. Jordan for “Creed III.” Fortunately, they couldn’t be in safer hands.