Creed 2 isn't just a sequel to Rocky 4; it actually improves and enhances the 1985 film. Rocky 4 holds a special place in the hearts of Rocky fans; though it's the most cartoonish of the Rocky films thanks to writer-director Sylvester Stallone's straightforward USA vs USSR "good vs. evil" story, some fans feel Rocky 4 is the best Rocky movie of them all. This is largely due to Rocky Balboa's rousing and inspirational training sequences set to John Cafferty's "Hearts on Fire" and the epic fight Rocky wins over Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Moscow.
However, if it weren't for the pivotal first fight between Drago and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in Rocky 4, the Creed franchise likely wouldn't exist at all. Apollo famously dies in the ring against the towering Russian, and Rocky blamed himself for not stopping the fight and saving his best friend. Three decades later, director Ryan Coolger's Creed would reveal that Apollo fathered Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) out of wedlock but died before he ever met his son. With the Creed blood in him, Adonis felt the need to fight all his life and decided to turn pro with Rocky as his trainer. Creed concluded with Adonis finally proving himself worthy of his father's surname, with his eyes on becoming a true champion like Apollo was.
In Creed 2, Adonis becomes like his old man (and Rocky) by winning the heavyweight championship of the world. However, instead of riding high, Adonis is immediately faced with the ghosts of the past as Ivan Drago returns, this time alongside his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), who he trained to become the champion Ivan could never be. Creed vs Drago seems like a Rocky 4 redux - a fact that Creed 2 knowingly weaves its narrative around - but here's how director Stephen Caple Jr.'s sequel goes the distance by making Rocky 4 even better:
- This Page: Creed II Is A Sequel and Deepens Rocky 4
- Page 2: How Creed II Makes Ivan Drago And Rocky 4 Better
All The Ways Creed 2 Is A Rocky 4 Sequel
Just like in Rocky 4, Russians arrive in the United States with eyes on the heavyweight championship and to make their reputations at the expense of a Creed. After Adonis beats Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler (Andre Ward) for the title at the start of Creed 2, there are two pivotal fights with Viktor Drago. In the first, Adonis, feeling betrayed and having flown off the handle because Rocky refused to train him, rushes into his fight with Viktor; this is just like how Apollo immediately wanted a fight with Ivan but took the Russian amateur boxing champion lightly. Unfocused and unprepared to face Viktor, Adonis doesn't die but is seriously injured, requiring months to heal physically and emotionally.
Like Rocky did when he realized he had to avenge Apollo's death by facing Drago himself, Adonis does a lot of soul-searching. His wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), is afraid for him, though she stops short of declaring, "You can't win!" like a terrified Adrian (Talia Shire) did to Rocky. Adrian later arrives in Russia to spur Rocky on in his training and declaring she's with him "no matter what." For her part, Bianca not only stands by Adonis, but in her role as a rising pop star, she defiantly sings his walkout song and accompanies her husband to the ring for his rematch with Viktor. Ivan's ex-wife, Ludmilla (Brigitte Nielsen), also appears and watches the final fight from ringside, but this time she doesn't hide her disappointment at her son and her ex-husband.
The rematch between Adonis and Viktor is in Russia just like Rocky vs. Ivan was, but before that, there are the Rocky franchise's signature training montages. Ivan puts Viktor through a grueling series of tests, though not like the cold and efficient way Ivan was trained in a high-tech setting (and injected with steroids). Meanwhile, instead of the bleak and harsh Siberian landscape, Rocky takes Adonis into the California desert to train in "a place where fighters are reborn."
The fight itself echoes Rocky's strategy against Ivan; knowing the hulking Viktor has never fought beyond the fourth round, the plan was for Adonis to absorb Viktor's punishment and push the fight to the distance to take advantage of Viktor's lack of stamina. Despite having his ribs broken again, Adonis does outlast Viktor and wins when Ivan throws in the towel for his son - an act of compassion that echoes Rocky's great regret that he adhered to Apollo's wishes and didn't do the same for the elder Creed. Once more, Ivan, via his son, has lost to Rocky, via his protege.
Creed 2 Deepens The Core Conflicts Of Rocky 4
In Creed 2, Rocky 4's USA vs. Russia theme takes a back seat as the characters, their hopes, fears, and desires to prove themselves come to the forefront. Perhaps the most electrifying moment in the film happens early when Rocky arrives in his restaurant to find Ivan waiting, seething at the photographs of Rocky's many victories - but none of Drago. The two rivals hadn't seen each other since 1985, and both fighters have had tragedy visit them, but Ivan also never had the moments of glory Rocky had. For Ivan, Viktor beating Adonis would redeem his own loss to Balboa that upended Ivan's entire life.
Resuming their fathers' rivalry, Viktor broke Adonis physically and spiritually, but the younger Creed was overwhelmed by the pressures of failing his late father's memory. Beating Drago was a chance to right Apollo's death at Ivan's hands, but facing his father's killer and his monstrous son brought all of Adonis' most deeply-held insecurities to a head. Beyond the daunting in-ring challenge Viktor represented, Adonis' real enemy was himself and his own expectations because of Apollo's memory. It took everyone in Adonis' life who loved him, from Rocky, Bianca, to his trainer Little Duke (Wood Harris), as well as his adoptive mother Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), to help Adonis face his fear of failure, prove himself as the champion Apollo was, and become the man he always wanted to be.
Related: What To Expect From Creed 3
But there was a third, fascinating conflict Creed 2 introduced: Ivan Drago's personal war with his own country. When he was humiliated by Rocky in 1985, Ivan became persona non grata in Russia. He had to relocate to Ukraine and raise his son alone in disgrace and poverty. For a brief while in Creed 2, Ivan enjoyed the respect and admiration of his motherland again, but it wouldn't last long.