Like father, like son.
For such a well-worn cliché, those four words can be used to describe a surprising number of things. It can be a simple statement, such as when a kid shows a knack for car engines, just like his mechanic dad. Sometimes, those words carry the tang of a promise. Other times, a curse. “Little Bobby’s sulking again? Well, like father, like son.”
But those four words can be a burden, too.
In the early stages of Creed II, Adonis Creed claims the heavyweight title—just like his father, Apollo, did. The belt even has a picture of Apollo on the side, paying homage to one of the boxing world’s storied champions.
But to be storied, like Apollo was, you need a story—a tale capable of capturing hearts and minds and history’s lasting fandom.
“The belt ain’t enough,” promoter Buddy Marcelle tells Adonis. “You need a narrative, something that sticks to your ribs.” And Buddy says he knows just the guy to give it to him.
See, Apollo’s not the only man who sired a potential heavyweight champ. Across the Atlantic lives another: Ivan Drago.
Back in the day, Ivan was an icily fearsome symbol of Cold War might—a titan with sledgehammer fists who fought for Soviet Russia. He, like the Soviet Union itself, fell on hard times and slipped into obscurity. But in the country’s cold, he’s been training his own son, Viktor, in the sweet science of boxing—teaching him not just to win, but to annihilate his opponents, physically and mentally. Now, coaxed by Buddy, Ivan and Viktor fly to the states to challenge Adonis to a fight, with Creed’s new title belt on the line.
“My son will break your boy,” Ivan growls at Adonis’ trainer, former heavyweight champ Rocky Balboa.
Oh, did I mention that the senior Drago killed Apollo in the ring 30 years ago? And that Apollo expired in Rocky’s own arms?
Adonis doesn’t have to take the fight. Viktor may be a mountain of muscle, but he’s raw and relatively unknown. Plenty of other contenders beckon to burnish Adonis’ legacy.
But the family feud between the Creeds and the Dragos is just too strong, the narrative just too tempting. Adonis’ family pride is on the line. “This is our chance to change history,” Adonis says. “Our history.”
But Rocky, who shares that history and who helped coach Adonis to the title, won’t be a part of this chapter. He still carries the guilt of not throwing in the towel when there was still time to save Apollo’s life.
Like father, like son? Rocky sure hopes not.
Adonis doesn’t just have a new heavyweight crown to worry about in Creed II: He has a family, too. He proposes to his longtime girlfriend (and aspiring singer), Bianca, and they have a baby together. Adonis calls his new daughter a fighter: “Just like her dad. Just like her mom, too.”
While the young family suffers a few bumps and bruises here and there (not unlike Adonis does in a more literal way), they become a loving unit. And when Adonis steps into the ring toward the end of the film, he’s fighting for (in the movie’s eyes) the best of reasons: out of hope for the family’s future, not in fear of not measuring up to his past.
Meanwhile, Rocky’s dealing with his own familial drama: He’s not talked with his estranged son for years and has never even met his grandson. He uses that pain to give Adonis a caution. “I don’t want you making the same mistake,” he says. [Spoiler Warning] Eventually, of course, Rocky and his son make up, and they begin to make up for lost time.
Rocky and Adonis also deal with an, ahem, rocky patch. But the two care deeply for one another, so the rift doesn’t last long. And as Rocky returns to help Adonis prepare for an important bout, Adonis displays the courage and heart of a champion.
Both Adonis and Rocky talk to loved ones that long ago slipped the surly bonds of earth, looking at their tombstones as they chat. Rocky’s own “conversation” with his beloved Adrian takes place in a graveyard with cross-shaped markers.
Adonis selects Rocky as his daughter’s godfather. Adonis’ name comes from Roman mythology, as does the name of his father, Apollo. And the name of Adonis’ gym is Delphi, the ancient Greek city famed for its oracles.
Rocky takes Adonis to the desert to train with some guys who appear to be a bunch of rough ex-cons. He describes the upcoming training in spiritual terms. “Want to start over? Be reborn?” Rocky asks rhetorically. “If you’re going back to hell [i.e., getting in the ring with Viktor], you might as well get used to it.”
After Adonis proposes to Bianca, the two begin kissing passionately on the hotel bed they share. Shirts come off; we see Bianca in a bra. Months later, they discover she’s pregnant.
“I don’t know if I—if we—are ready,” Bianca confesses.
“Let’s get ready, then,” Adonis says.
The two kiss elsewhere. We see a couple of women in somewhat revealing garb. Ivan believes his own wife left him because he failed in the ring. Adonis, Viktor and other boxers obviously spend a lot of time shirtless.
Creed II, as you might expect, features a lot of bone-crunching boxing footage, with the crunch being no exaggeration. Adonis suffers several serious blows to his midsection. After one fight, a boxer heads straight to the hospital with a concussion, fractured ribs, a ruptured kidney and tons of cuts and bruises across his face. Boxers are knocked around, knocked down and knocked out—the latter feeling particularly jarring at times, given what we now know about how damaging concussions can be over time. In flashback, we see snippets of Apollo and Ivan Drago’s fatal match and its aftermath, including a scene where the lifeless and bloodied Apollo lies in the ring, apparently dead.
The training is at times no less jarring. The desert camp that Adonis and Rocky retreat to seems explicitly designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain possible on Adonis: Rocky slams a medicine ball repeatedly into Adonis’ gut, forcing him to deal with its discomfort. When Adonis spars with a huge, tattooed partner (sans protective headgear), Rocky has them both put one foot in a tire in the center of the ring, forcing them to trade tooth-rattling body blows with one another. In another scene, Adonis collapses from exhaustion while running in the desert heat behind a car: Rocky roots for him to get up, and so Adonis does—continuing to run as best he can.
In previous Rocky movies, this sort of display of guts and determination would be simply part of the story. But given the real-life stories in recent years of high school and college football players dying from heat exhaustion, what we sometimes see in Creed II feels potentially abusive.
We see a close-up of Adonis’ bloody knuckles during his training as he takes an ice bath.
We hear nearly 15 s-words (some of them in a rap song in the background, which may also feature uses of the n-word), as well as a smattering of other profanities, including “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused once.
Before proposing to Bianca, Adonis swigs a glass of champagne to steel his nerves—then takes a gulp straight from the bottle. Russians drink champagne at a lavish dinner party.
There’s a reference to morphine. Adonis takes some meds as part of his recovery from a recent bout. A bottle of whiskey is propped up by a tombstone.
After a fight, Adonis releases bloody urine into a toilet bowl. He vomits during training as well. He and Bianca discuss bowel movements via sign language before a fight.
Ivan’s relationship with his son seems a bit dysfunctional for a good chunk of the movie.
Rocky Balboa, relationship counselor.
Not perhaps Rocky’s main claim to fame, but Adonis nevertheless asks the former champ for some advice before proposing to Bianca. Rocky tells him to turn off his brain, turn on his heart.
It also might’ve been an exhortation from Sylvester Stallone, Rocky’s alter-ego, on how to watch Creed II.
Creed II feels a lot like Creed. And Rocky. And Rocky II and III and who knows how many other Roman numerals we can track down. We know Adonis is going to struggle in body, soul and spirit early on after hubris and/or obstacles lay him low. We know that Rocky’s going to take him into an impossibly difficult, back-to-the-basics training regimen to build Adonis back up again. And we know that Adonis will be triumphant in the all-important final bout: Even if he doesn’t win the belt, even if he doesn’t win on points, we’ll all go home knowing he was still a winner in soul and spirit.
Yes, we know every beat this movie can thump out. And that’s OK. We don’t go to these movies for a gritty depiction of 21st-century boxing, or a heartbreaking tragedy that’ll make us think and sniffle a little on the way out of the theater. Creed II is all about heart—the heart it takes to win, and the heart the audience feels when Adonis does just that.
Yes, the in-ring violence is often brutal. And given what we know about the cumulative effect of such brutal boxing violence, it grows more troubling to me with each passing year.
But there’s a reason why boxing movies remain so popular, even as the actual sport gradually fades into obscurity. When a man steps into the ring to fight another, it becomes something not just primal, but pure—a contest of muscle and mind and will and even hope.
“It’s like what I asked you before,” Rocky says to Adonis. “What are you really fighting for?”
Adonis Creed comes to understand what he should fight for—family and friendship and even love—and what he shouldn’t. The process he goes through isn’t just about turning him into a better fighter: It’s about making him a better man.
The original Creed became the most lauded Rocky film since the 1976 original. Creed II doesn’t hit those lofty heights. Instead, it feels true to the spirit of some of the lesser, but still entertaining, chapters of Rocky Balboa’s multi-decade franchise. Like father, like son.
And for fans of Rocky and Creed’s brand of pugilistic inspiration, that’s worthy praise.
Feeling like Adonis Creed and ready to fight for your family’s future? Here are some ideas that can help you win:
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.