Photo: Creed 3/MGM
The “Rocky” franchise has been going steady for almost 5 decades now, and much of that is owed to the powerhouse performances by the lead actor, Sylvester Stallone. Stallone might not be the most emotive or intelligible actor, but what he lacks in line delivery, he more than makes up for with impermeable stoicism and his trademark no-nonsense attitude. “Rocky” is his most famous franchise, and he is definitely a key factor as to why the movies have remained a mainstay in the cultural consciousness for so long, despite numerous other boxing films threatening to unseat Rocky Balboa from his crown (“Raging Bull,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “The Fighter,” etc.). It still hasn’t happened yet, but with Stallone’s age becoming increasingly more of a question as the years have passed, the franchise had to start preparing to switch up their long-term strategy.
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The “Creed” Saga Begins
In the 2010s, the long-running series underwent a significant re-tooling, taking a beloved corner of the franchise (Carl Weathers’ iconic nemesis-turned-ally Apollo Creed) and providing an extensive expansion of the world and how it has been shaped by its great boxing titans. The resulting film was Ryan Coogler’s explosive 2015 blockbuster “Creed,” which followed Apollo’s long-lost son Adonis Johnson as he comes to terms with his storied family legacy, as he realizes his pre-destined boxing greatness. Rising star Michael B. Jordan took on the title role and was accompanied by Tessa Thompson and a returning Stallone, who received an Oscar nomination for his performance as Balboa, now beaten-down by old age and family trauma. Rocky serves here as a mentor to the bitter but determined Adonis, and the two form an unlikely bond, guided by the wisdom that had been passed down to them by the fallen Apollo.
“Creed” was an immediate success for all involved, and helped pave the way for the now-storied careers of Coogler, Jordan, and Thompson, who have since gone on to direct and star in the wildly-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe series of films, as well as smaller, more intimate roles for Jordan and Thompson, in “Just Mercy” and “Sorry to Bother You,” respectively.
Coogler and Jordan had worked before on the tragic “Fruitvale Station,” and “Creed” solidified their working relationship that would continue in 2018’s superhero epic “Black Panther.” But it was “Creed” that really showcased Coogler’s unique, hyperactive directing style, and Jordan’s quietly intense acting chops, effectively launching both their careers (as well as Thompson’s) into another stratosphere.
That film eventually spawned a sequel, “Creed II.” But Coogler had involved himself in other projects (most notably, the aforementioned “Black Panther” franchise), so the directing duties were granted to relative newcomer Stephen Caple, Jr. While not a bad director by any stretch of the imagination, Caple did seem a bit over his head with such a monumental project, and the resulting film felt rushed and unfocused (specifically in the action and dialogue scenes), despite amazing performances from the entire cast, especially a returning Dolph Lundgren as the menacing Russian heavyweight-turned-trainer Ivan Drago, who was responsible for killing Adonis’ father in the ring in “Rocky IV.” It’s not a horrible film but was definitely a step-down from how enormous the first film felt, both in terms of scale and emotion.
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Jordan Hired to Direct “Creed 3”
This brings us to this past week and the announcement that the actor who inspired such a dramatic reconstruction of the classic franchise would be helming the series’ third installment as director and producer, as well as starring. The script for the film is based on an outline by Ryan Coogler and written by a team that includes Coogler’s brother Keenan. The new film, which is expected to release on November 23, 2022, will be Jordan’s feature-length directorial debut and provides a unique opportunity for one of Hollywood’s brightest stars to test his might behind the camera, as well as perform in what could very well be the conclusion for the character.
Ending the “Creed” series as a trilogy would be great closure for Jordan and the franchise as a whole, as Sylvester Stallone has not yet signed a contract, and thus might not be returning for the film. This grants everyone involved an opportunity to look at the franchise from a final, post-Rocky perspective.
We all know Jordan is a more than capable actor at this point, as his performances in both big (Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther”) and small films (“Chronicle,” alongside Dane Dehaan) have received widespread acclaim. But it remains to be seen whether he has the chops to helm an entire film himself. Sure, he has probably learned from great directors like Coogler, and will likely be guided by his co-stars throughout the process, but actors transitioning to directing has not always worked overly well (as was the case with Mel Gibson and Brie Larson).
However, the “Sexiest Man Alive” cover star is arguably in a different league than those two, given his more worldly, collaborative, and non-confrontational approach to his work, so Jordan could find himself in a category alongside Jordan Peele (“Get Out”), Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”), and Regina King (“One Night in Miami”), who have all used their experience on-set and their name-brand, Hollywood recognition to transcend expectations and create truly magnificent art, resulting in Oscar nominations for Peele and King.
Jordan has already demonstrated that he is a remarkably poised and talented person, becoming one of the most sought-after Black voices in Hollywood after a long career that began with pivotal performances in classic television shows The Wire and Friday Night Lights. He is representative of a greater sea-change within the industry, paving the way for other upcoming Black talents to receive more recognition and acclaim in the future. But this newest endeavor is a remarkably different sort of challenge for the budding star, and I, for one, am more than excited to see what Jordan does with his new position.
By Patrick Nash
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