WARNING: Spoilers for Creed II ahead.

Creed 2's ending is one of the most emotional in the Rocky series. The film is, obviously, a sequel to 2015's Creed, but is also quasi-sequel/remake of 1985's Rocky IV and, in some ways, 2006's Rocky Balboa. And it rises to that challenge, providing the best of what the Rocky franchise can offer and an unexpected evolution of both title characters.

Picking up with Adonis Creed as a superstar boxer, Creed 2 wastes no time in seeing him win the Heavyweight Champion of the World title. The real challenge of the movie is Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago who killed Apollo Creed in the ring and was later bested by Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV. Creed almost loses his title match with the human tank, saved only by Drago's disqualification, but after a period of self-doubt comes back for a revenge fight.

Related: Every Returning Rocky Character In Creed II

But far more than the formulaic boxing picture with sprinklings of revenge that its plot synopsis would suggest, Creed 2 is a movie all about fathers, sons, justice and, above all, legacy. Continuing many complex themes from the previous seven films in the series while standing firmly on its own, here's what happens in Creed 2's ending, what the big reveals mean, and what could be next for the franchise.

How Adonis Creed Beats Viktor Drago (And What It Means)

The fight between Adonis Creed and Viktor Drago at the end of Creed 2 is a truly brutal one, mentally and physically. The plan for Creed is to win the fight by knock-down - punching the opponent to the floor and them failing to get back up after ten seconds - whereas Drago, while happy with a knockdown, is clearly going for a full-on knockout. Adonis comes out the gates strong, but is immediately forced back by Viktor in the second round. Over the course of the fight, power moves back and forth; Adonis is knocked down multiple times, brought back up by Bianca's cheers, and Drago targets his opponent's ribs, trying to cripple him like in their previous bout.

Eventually, though, Creed gets the upper hand, knocking Drago down repeatedly and, once he's up, wailing on him. At this point, Ivan Drago steps in and throws in the towel, forfeiting the match. Creed wins, retaining his title, although by this point that was already likely; whether based on points or another knock-down, Viktor Drago was pretty much spent and sure to be defeated. The towel was more to stop him being hurt any further.

This is important for the Dragos (as we'll explore shortly) and sees Adonis earn an unequivocal moral victory, but it's most important for how it mirrors Rocky IV. In the deadly exhibition match between Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago, Rocky didn't throw in the towel, conflicted between his care for Apollo and the fighter's repeated insistence to keep the match going. And so while Rocky is blamed for not stopping the fight - something mentioned by Adonis and in news coverage in Creed 2 - it's a more internalized debate over what was, in the moment, deemed best for Apollo: his life or his ego. Rocky's inaction proved fatal and tortured him to fight Drago himself in Rocky IV, but is also what made him refuse to train Adonis in Creed 2. Having the sequel's final fight end in a mirror of what came before highlights how far all the key players have come.

Related: What Creed II Doesn't Tell You About Rocky IV

Ivan & Viktor Drago Accept Defeat

In Rocky IV, Ivan Drago is a caricature. He's an unstoppable force and an immovable object, recording impossible strength levels and pummelling the former Heavyweight Champion to death. Rocky only beats him by completely realigning his approach, building a back-to-basics training routine and aiming to slowly wear the Russian down. The key to the final fight in Rocky IV was getting Drago to shed his patriotism, losing his composure and be reduced to just a man.

That's where Creed 2 picks up; the Ivan Drago presented here is disgraced and living an impoverished life. He aims to regain that respect through his son, turning him into an angrier version of his younger self. Crucially, both generations are powered by the departure of Ludmilla Drago, Ivan's ex-wife, after his loss; they believe that, if they win the Heavyweight title, they'll also get her back. Regaining her affection is as much the prize as it is going for Creed.

And, at first, it seems to work; she attends a dinner celebrating Viktor's first match against Adonis and takes a front-row seat at the rematch. However, the moment it becomes apparent that the Dragos may not win - not definitely, but stand a small chance of being disgraced - she immediately leaves. In losing what the Dragos were fighting for, the match, the belt and Creed suddenly don't matter; Viktor loses his nerve and Ivan finally throws in the towel. Without anything to hide behind, Drago realizes his son's humanity, and Viktor is mad for all of two seconds before he suddenly grasps the act of love his father just made.

Just as Creed made Apollo's ostentatious death serious, Creed 2 completely reframes his cartoon killer. The climax of Adonis Creed's journey hinges on the humanity of both villains and them accepting that winning isn't as important as each other. This is underscored by their last scene; the duo are back in Ukraine training, only this time Ivan is running alongside his son, rather than trying to break him.

Page 2: Rocky's Son & Redemption In The Creed Films

Rocky's Son In Previous Rocky Movies

Rocky Balboa, Jr. was born during Rocky II (a complicated birth left Adrian in a coma for much of the film) and served as extra motivation for fighting in Rockys III and IV. By Rocky V, however, that father-son relationship was strained: now going by Robert, Rocky's son began to hate living in his father's shadow (and resented Rocky's focus on surrogate son, boxer Tommy Gunn). While the film is mostly ignored due to its undisputed position as the worst entry in the Rocky series, that relationship carried over to Rocky Balboa, where a grown-up Bobby and Rocky slowly found a shared respect. However, the happiness was short-lived: by the time of Creed, Robert had moved to Canada and had a grandson.

Related: All 8 Rocky & Creed Movies Ranked: From 1976 To 2018

Rocky Reunites With His Son At The End of Creed 2

After beating cancer in the time between Creed and Creed 2, Rocky's gained some sense of contentment. However, throughout the sequel, the cracks in his life begin to expand. He's most pointedly forced to address his role in Apollo's death, but also keeps returning to his relationship with his estranged son; he stares longingly at pictures of Adrian and him at Robert's birth, tries to call after seeing Adonis and Bianca with their daughter for the first time, and following the fight is left alone to ponder who he has while the Dragos comfort each other and the Creeds celebrate.

This is the motivation he needs to travel to Vancouver and reunite with Robert (played once again by Rocky Balboa's Milo Ventimiglia) and meet his grandson, Logan, for the first. It's an encounter low on words but high on meaning as two generations of Balboa quietly begin rebuilding a relationship fractured for three decades (and four movies). Robert is, as Rocky always suspected, happy, but is all the more for seeing his father.

Rocky's Redemption In The Creed Films

Creed 2's ending completes a two-part redemptive arc for Rocky. Of course, in the original six films, Rocky got a pretty resolute ending. He was the Philly bum with a heart of gold who would always persevere; when he got the chance to prove he could go the distance, he became a superstar. And he never stopped fighting. Over the first four sequels, Rocky dealt with gaining fame and fortune, the impact that has on his most important relationships, and the deaths of those important to him, all the while kept moving forward. In Rocky Balboa, written as the final film, he proved even as an older man, he still had the same heart - the same eye of the tiger - and ended his career just as he began. He'd accepted who he always was, conquered his loss and found peace a new life.

However, in reality, stories don't end like that. Rocky always had a degree of idealism but in rebooting the franchise, it became clear that there were dangling threads that would eat away at the character over the years that couldn't be ignored. Just as many legacy-quels have shown iconic characters worn away by time - see Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Flynn in TRON: Legacy or Laurie Strode in Halloween - when Rocky return in Creed, he was shut off, whiling out his days in his bistro without any real purpose. The deaths of Adrian and Paulie had taken their toll, with the emotional distance of Robert leaving him adrift to the point that, when diagnosed with cancer, he was ready to give up the fight.

Related: Rocky and the Greatest Retcon of All Time

It was training the son of a man he let die that allowed Rocky to regain that sense of importance and responsibility for himself and others. Creed 2, however, goes further; it's not just about preparing for the future - a strong theme with the focus on sons and daughters - but also repairing the past. He atones for Apollo's death, reaches out to his son and is even able to, somewhat, put the Drago incident behind him. If the Rocky series was about perseverance, the character's arc in the Creed duology is more about acceptance. Although that's nothing on what the new protagonist goes through...

Page 3: Adonis Creed's Real Victory & Future

Adonis Is A Creed... But He's Also His Own Man

Creed 2 ends with Adonis finally visiting Apollo's grave, "meeting" his father for the very first time. He charmingly connects with his memory and introduces the new Creed family: fiance Bianca and daughter Amara.

It's here where Adonis underscores his journey across the past two Creed films. He was always conflicted most in his identity; his desire to box was influenced by Apollo (he shadowboxed his father's old fights), yet he wanted to make a name for himself as Adonis Johnson. Yet when the Creed title was forced on him by the media and money-hungry promoters, it was something he embraced and truly earned by the end of the first movie. That name is what started the conflict of Creed 2, with the Dragos singling out Apollo's bastard as the key to their own redemption. But while Adonis takes up the first fight out of anger over his past, after a brutalizing beatdown and deep introspection caused by his daughter, he realizes that it's not about being a Creed. Apollo being his father is how he came into the world and what created the fighter, but the rematch with Viktor was something personal to Adonis, the energy used to beat the Russian entirely his own. It's revenge, but it's purely personal.

In his admittance to Apollo at the end of Creed 2, we see Adonis learning the same lesson that the Dragos and Rocky have: legacy goes both ways. We take on the weight of the past, of our parents and mentors, but are also forging our own to be passed down itself. It's fitting that Creed 2, a movie that has an obsessive focus on children and fathers, with the story impacted at once by three generations, is equally a sequel to the first Creed and Rocky IV; its concluding theme is that neither nature nor nurture can truly define someone, that we make our own destiny. It's an idea that's been at the core of Rocky since 1976, but never has it been so multilayered.

Related: A History of the Rocky Franchise

What's Next For Adonis Creed?

With that conclusion, and Adonis announcing to his father that he's fighting just for himself, the question of where he can go next in Creed III is a complicated one. The two Creed movies so far are something of a two-pronged exploration of legacy, looking at how past and present influence us, and by their nature leave Adonis' path wide open. The obvious next step would be to lean into Creed's future, taking up Creed 2's tease of how Heavyweight Champions are readily forgotten and questioning what he can do to cement his name in history (and if he even wants to).

It's possible for the Dragos to return; while they are redeemed in Creed 2, the ending leaves it open for a further rematch (or the potential of a reconciliation, similar to Rocky and Apollo in Rocky III). But, really, it may be more interesting to see Adonis take on his own trials. If Creed really is moving ahead of Rocky as a franchise, then now would be the time to shed the past and forge a new, surprising direction.

Ultimately, whatever Creed III may have in store, it's fair to say that Creed II has more than gone the distance.

Next: Creed II Review

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