Creed II is as much as sequel to Rocky IV as it is 2015's Creed, although despite seeing Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) take on Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) in a bid to avenge his father's death, it doesn't really provide much of a recap of what actually happened in the cult classic Rocky sequel. Here's everything the movie doesn't tell you.
Creed shifted the focus of the Rocky series away from Sylvester Stallone's Italian Stallion to Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, Rocky's former rival and eventual best friend. Directed by Ryan Coogler, it was a serious reboot of a series that had gone in a range of crazy directions during the 1980s. However, its story was firmly rooted in the silliest movie of the franchise: Rocky 4, a music montage-heavy, high-camp exploration of contemporary American-Russian relations that ended with Rocky essentially ending the Cold War. This is doubly true of Creed's sequel, although you wouldn't know it from the way director Steven Caple Jr. tells it.
All Creed 2 provides is the very brief details of what happened: Apollo fought Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and died in the ring, then Rocky eventually beat him. There are some more specific events referenced - Rocky refers to how he was diagnosed with brain damage after his fight with Drago, a turn from the maligned Rocky V - but for the most part, newcomers to the franchise would be forgiven for thinking there isn't even a whole movie detailing this conflict.
What Creed 2 Doesn't Reveal About Rocky 4
There's good reason for Creed II to ignore its predecessor: Rocky IV is a bizarre movie. It sees the Soviets send Ivan Drago (and wife Ludmilla) to challenge American boxers in a bid to prove Russian dominance. Apollo takes on the Olympic champion ahead of Rocky despite not being in good shape and, after an over-the-top entrance featuring James Brown (seriously), they enter an exhibition match where Apollo is pummelled and eventually killed by one of Drago's punches in the second round. After the funeral and against Adrian's wishes, Rocky gives up his Heavyweight Champion of the World title so he can take on Drago in an unauthorized match in Russia on Christmas Day. He trains in the Russian countryside, lifting trees and running up mountains, with only those closest to him for company. In the final fight, Rocky manages to goad out the man behind the Soviet monster, playing on emotion and beating him down. Rocky 4 ends, oddly, on a character-pushing speech to the Russian Premier calling for peace.
Where Creed 2 most avoids Rocky 4 is in its presentation of Drago. Lundgren's opponent was comical even by Rocky standards, with impossible punch strength making him an immovable object and limited, accented lines - "If he dies, he dies", "I must break you" - filling that mass out as a cartoon villain. In Creed 2, the older Drago is treated considerably more seriously. He's a disgraced former-hero of his country, still haunted by Rocky's victory, although it's still in line with what Rocky 4 presented; that delineation of man and country was, somewhat, at the heart of the final bout.
For all its repurposing, the Creed series still completely ignores some of the crazier parts of Rocky 4. The robot Rocky gives best friend Paulie for his birthday and eventually becomes a nagging wife is, for obvious tonal reasons, avoided. And, of course, there's a general avoidance of acknowledging just how campy the events that emotionally charge Creed 2 were.
Related: Creed II Movie Review
Other Rocky Story Details Creed 2 Skips
Rocky 4 isn't the only movie that Creed 2 lightly steps around explaining. There's a lot of major events in Rocky's seven-movie past that have a major impact on the plot yet are totally unelaborated on. The biggest is certainly Robert Balboa, Rocky's son. Born in Rocky II, Rocky, Jr's fractured relationship with his father was the central plot of both Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, with Creed revealing he'd moved to Canada to get out of his father's shadow.
There's also hints at the many important people Rocky's lost: Adrian died of cancer in 2002, while Adonis is trained by Tony "Little Duke" Evers, Jr., the son of Apollo and later Rocky's trainer Duke.
Ultimately, it's a point of praise for Creed II that the movie works and pays tribute to the Rocky franchise without getting bogged down in a surprisingly complex continuity. That said, let's hope Creed III isn't a pseudo-sequel to Rocky V complete with the return of Tommy Gunn.
- Creed 2 (2018) release date: Nov 21, 2018