The Rocky franchise has one of the most elaborate, gloriously ridiculous fictional continuities of any recurring franchise. Audiences who first caught a glimpse of Sylvester Stallone’s gritty, inspirational underdog story in 1976 may have never expected that it would initiate a franchise that includes ending the Cold War, a robot assistant, a charity match with Hulk Hogan, and a 60-year-old “Italian Stallion” returning to the ring. It’s one of the rare franchises that’s evolved with the times to incorporate the themes relevant in that era of popular culture, and 2015’s Creed managed to capture the same “lightning in a bottle” magic that Stallone had created in 1976. The Creed films have honored and updated the legacy of Rocky Balboa, and they’ve reached the point that they no longer need him.
One of the beautiful things about the entire Rocky franchise is that new fans can really start anywhere; knowing the connection between Rocky and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) might make Rocky IV a more enjoyable experience for you, but a complete knowledge of the franchise isn’t needed to enjoy a silly movie about America winning the Cold War through a boxing match. 2015’s Creed did all that and more; it opened the “underdog story” up to a modern perspective and allowed a more diverse audience to see themselves reflected in the same themes that Stallone had identified with his original masterpiece.
Although Creed has paid its tribute to Rocky with wholesome nods that close up the loose plot ends from the previous films, a cameo appearance by Stallone to give a few inspirational speeches isn’t necessary for the Creed sequels. While Creed III is not set to include Rocky at all, his presence will certainly be felt anytime Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) lands a punch. Moving on is the best thing that a franchise can do, and it’s not disrespectful to acknowledge that Rocky Balboa is now a man of the past.
‘Creed’ Gives Rocky Balboa Satisfying Closure
Similar to other “soft reboots” of older franchises like Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Top Gun: Maverick, Ryan Coogler’s 2015 Creed film fulfills two important functions. It sets up a new protagonist worth investing in with Adonis, whose journey mirrors his mentor’s in many ways. However, there are different qualities to his characterization that make Adonis’ worldview unique, and not a complete replication of Rocky. He’s struggling with a burgeoning anger that he can’t overcome, and he’s living under the shadow of a father he barely knew. If Rocky grew up having to fight for a shot, Adonis feels like he’s been gifted with a legacy that he needs to earn for himself.
While Creed works as a continuation of Rocky’s journey from the end of Rocky Balboa, it’s perfectly understandable for first-time viewers. The “underdog story” is easily accessible, and for those who have never seen Rocky on screen before, he’s simply an inspirational, kind older man who has ties to Adonis’ past. That’s not to say that Creed is disrespectful of its roots in any ways; Stallone’s emotional performance shows what living under the public spotlight and fighting for your entire life does to a person. While seeing a weathered boxer reflect on what he’s lost is powerful regardless, it’s even more impactful for those who’ve watched him evolve from a young man like Adonis into this elder statesman.
Stallone’s Oscar nomination (and shocking, unfortunate snub for the win) signified what an important legacy he had left behind. Rocky’s swan song took a few false starts before it reached this point; Rocky V disastrously tried to return the franchise to its grittier roots, and while Rocky Balboa was a solid installment in the series, it felt implausible to imagine Rocky starting a new boxing career at his age. The more satisfying end comes from Rocky recognizing that his time is over, and passing on his knowledge to a younger generation. It’s best to give him a graceful exit rather than letting him continue to the point of embarrassment.
‘Creed II’s Ties to the Rocky Story Felt Unnecessary
Creed II signified that while the spinoff franchise was succeeding to new heights, the ties to the Rocky series were rather perfunctory. Similar to the recurring characters in the Rocky franchise, Creed managed to continue the story of Adonis’ relationship with Bianca Taylor (Tessa Thompson) and trainer Tony Evers (Wood Harris) from the first film. Creed’s mythology was growing and expanding, bringing in new cast members that audiences could feel invested in. However, the continuation of a key storyline from Rocky IV may have felt unusual for fans reminded of one of the sillier installments in the series.
Creed II brings back the character of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian boxer who killed Adonis’ father in a match during Rocky IV. While Drago was nothing but a caricature originally, the Creed II version revitalizes him as a disgraced older man shamed by his country who now channels his rage into training his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu). To Creed fans, it’s an impactful story of fathers and sons; Adonis has to face the man who robbed him of a normal childhood, and Viktor has to redeem the legacy of a father who abuses him. However, Rocky fans may have had a hard time taking the story seriously when they’re reminded of a ridiculous ‘80s movie that features an extended dance number where James Brown sings “Living in America.”
Even more disappointing was Rocky’s role himself; while Creed paints him as a complex, damaged man who is forced to let go of his past, he appears in Creed II as a quirky mentor who gives brilliant advice on any moment’s notice. It’s disappointing to see such a less nuanced version of the role when he was already given a perfect exit. Stallone has already turned his other most iconic role, John Rambo, into a parody of himself by the time of Rambo: Last Blood, and it would be disappointing to see him do the same with Rocky.
The Rocky series already has a great set of diverse films, a Best Picture win, and dozens of fans under its belt. It doesn’t need to be referenced in each Creed movie to be remembered, and bringing Stallone back again and again would only trivialize the work he did in his prime. Creed has earned its independence; as Rocky himself would say, “if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth.”