When I saw Creed II, I got the sneaking suspicion that this was the final time I’d see Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa. Unlike Rocky V and then Rocky Balboa, which both heavily played up the notion that these were Stallone’s final Rocky movies in trailers and commercials (which obviously turned out not to be true in both cases), Creed II didn’t emphasize the fact that Rocky was taking a curtain call. But it was there if you were paying attention, particularly in the aftermath of the film’s big fight, where Rocky tells Adonis Creed (played by Michael B. Jordan) that it’s his time to enjoy the spotlight now. Then Rocky takes a seat outside the ring during Adonis’ post-match celebration. It felt like a torch had been passed, even if unofficially.

I was so curious about that ending that I asked director Steven Caple Jr. about it during our interview about Creed II. He mentioned several times that the filmmakers wanted to suggest there are two franchises here; or, as Caple put it, “We really want to say ‘This is Creed’s franchise, and then this is Rocky’s franchise,’ so it can be a true spinoff and whenever we need to cross, we cross.”

Those turned out to be prophetic words. Creed 3 is officially in the works, with Michael B. Jordan returning to star and, for the first time, assume the director’s chair. But for the first time, he won’t be joined by Stallone or Rocky Balboa. On his Instagram page, Stallone responded to a fan asking about the possibility of a Creed 3, writing “It will be done but I won’t be in it.”

Instagram

As I noted, the franchise already seemed to be moving in this direction in Creed II. Still, I imagine it will be a big disappointment for a lot of longtime Rocky fans, who revere the character and Stallone’s performance. Even when Stallone was already much too old to play a competitive boxer, they welcome him back in Rocky Balboa, which made more than $155 million worldwide. Creed is very much the title character’s story, but Rocky has played a key supporting role in his journey.

Then again, Rocky was always the Mickey-ish figure of the Creed films; the aging mentor dispensing wise advice about boxing and life. And (spoilers) Mickey died in Rocky III, leaving Rocky to figure things out for himself from then on. In a way, this decisions echoes that one, and the way time passes for all of us. Creed 3 is due in theaters on November 23, 2022.

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