The Key Lessons Michael B. Jordan Had For Making A Rocky Training Montage

Montages can get a bad rap, though for reasons that have less to do with this particular cinematic technique and more to do with how it's used or employed. A great montage can tell a poignant story about marriage or expose a flawed life for the empty shell that it is in a matter of a few minutes. A bland montage can feel like a cheat, allowing a movie to skip over really exploring the evolution of a relationship or how someone develops a new approach to fashion to reflect their changing sense of identity.

Indeed, the famous training montages in the "Rocky" and "Creed" movies are a lot like the actual films in that they vary in quality and execution. Take the iconic — yes, we're pulling out the "i" word — training montage in 1976's "Rocky." On a purely aesthetic level, its rhythmic editing and variation in camerawork (quick close-ups, lengthy tracking shots) make it a pleasure to watch and listen to. But on a story level, it also progresses the movie in a way that's efficient and impactful. By the time it culminates with Rocky running non-stop up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the film has already established why the event is meaningful to the character and his journey.

"Creed III" finds star Michael B. Jordan directing himself in such a training montage for the first time, having previously only starred in the montages from the first two "Creed" movies. Speaking at a press conference attended by /Film's Rafael Motamayor, Jordan offered some quick (montage-style?) insights into what it takes to make this type of sequence work, now that he's called the shots on one himself.

'What are the stakes?'

The training montage in Ryan Coogler's "Creed" cross-cuts between Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) preparing for a major boxing match while Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), his trainer and mentor, undergoes treatment for his cancer. It's a powerful sequence that serves to juxtapose the two characters and where they are at in their lives, capping off with a shot where Adonis joyfully realizes he's ready for his fight. Meanwhile, Rocky cheers him on, having made it through the hardest part of his treatment.

Naturally, Steven Caple Jr.'s "Creed II" finds Adonis in a very different place. Throughout the film's training montage, it cuts from Adonis working out to his rival Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) — the son of the man who killed Adonis' father Apollo in the boxing ring — also preparing for their big fight, and clips of Adonis talking on the phone with his fiancée Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson) and their newborn daughter. And while it climaxes with Adonis being in better shape than he's even been, it also emphasizes what this fight is really about for him: making peace with the legacy of Apollo so that Adonis might focus on his family and future.

In both cases, these montages firmly establish both the stakes and the characters' progression to realizing their goals — the two things Jordan said he came to realize matter most while constructing the training montage for "Creed III" (along with filming "everything you can" in terms of any and all footage you think you either may need or want to use in post-production): 

"What are the stakes? How is your character leaving the montage better than he was when he first started? I think that's a good one to stick to."

"Creed III" opens in theaters on March 3, 2023.