Sylvester Stallone out, Michael B. Jordan takes the helm in ninth Rocky film Creed III
LOS ANGELES – Opening in Singapore cinemas on Thursday, Creed III is the ninth movie in the long-running Rocky franchise, one of the highest-grossing sports film series of all time.
But it is the first Rocky movie that will not star Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, the small-time boxer who took on world heavyweight champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in the Oscar-winning Rocky (1976), a quintessential underdog tale that launched countless memes and a US$1.6 billion franchise.
Stallone stepped away because of a bitter ownership dispute with long-time Rocky producer Irwin Winkler, and also because he did not like the darker turn taken by Winkler and the film’s star, Michael B. Jordan, who plays Creed’s son, Adonis “Donnie” Creed.
So, while the first two Rocky spin-offs – Creed (2015) and Creed II (2018) – featured Balboa as Adonis’ mentor, the focus this time is on the relationship between Donnie and his former childhood friend, Damian (Jonathan Majors), who is just out of prison and looking to settle scores in the ring.
For Jordan, the project is a turning point in his life and career, marking both his directorial debut and a coup for his production company, Outlier Society.
The 36-year-old American is already an A-list star after playing the villain Killmonger in superhero blockbuster Black Panther (2018).
And he had received glowing notices for his performances in biographical drama Fruitvale Station (2013) and the first Creed.
But with Creed III, it feels like “all roads in my life kind of led to this moment”, he says at an event in Los Angeles celebrating black cinema and television.
“Professionally, personally (and in terms of the) people that I work with, it kind of all came together,” he says.
Publicly, Jordan has said little about the glaring absence of Stallone nor their creative differences over the film.
But in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in November 2022, Stallone, 76, said Creed III “was taken in a direction that is quite different than I would’ve taken it”.
“I like my heroes getting beat up, but I don’t want them going into that dark space.”
But Jordan feels he understands the character on a deeply personal level.
“I grew up along with Adonis Creed. I created him with (Creed director) Ryan (Coogler) and got a chance to play him at pivotal times during my personal life,” says the actor.
“So, in the third film, to be able to tell the story of where Adonis is on his journey feels extremely personal.”
Making this movie has also consumed him.
On receiving an award that evening for being a trailblazer in black cinema, Jordan says the honour caught him off-guard in part because “for the last six months or so, I’ve been locked in an editing bay finishing Creed III”.
“And you lose perspective sometimes on what’s important because the only thing you care about is getting that picture right.”
As he swings between acting and directing, Jordan is leaning more towards the latter these days.
This is in part because he has had enough of seeing himself on-screen after editing Creed III.
“I’ve been looking at my face on-screen in the edit for a long time now and it’s tough.”
But in a career full of high-profile roles, the one Jordan says is his favourite is a smaller part many of his fans may not even be aware of.
For 13 episodes of the critically adored crime drama The Wire (2002 to 2008), he played a steely but soft-hearted 15-year-old drug dealer named Wallace.
The experience was formative. “It was one of my earlier roles and I didn’t even really know what acting was. It was just kind of like living and being,” says Jordan.
“And being in that naive place and surrounded by a lot of older veterans – directors, film-makers and storytellers – really encouraged me to keep going. So, I think that’s kind of where I really fell in love with what I was doing.”
Creed III opens on Thursday.