When Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo, arrives in Philly he seeks out former World Champion, and his father's friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) so that the great man himself can train him to become a professional fighter. Interestingly, this is the first time the British have featured in the Rocky franchise (perhaps it's something to do with the rise of British boxing talent) and Creed's opponent is Scouser "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew) who is yet to be defeated.
A genuine love and affection for, or at least knowledge of, the Rocky franchise is a strong requirement for getting the most out of the latest addition to the Rocky universe, but like the central character the film is able to stand on its own without needing help from its legacy. That said, knowledge of Rocky's progression from failing prize fighter and enforcer to the man who ended the Cold War with a motivational speech that got the Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to his feet whilst becoming the World Champion in the process is important to getting the most out of Creed. However, the most important reason to watch the first four Rocky movies in particular is to understand Rocky's motivations in training the son of his friend and rival Apollo Creed.
Creed is perfectly able to stand on its own two feet but without knowledge of the story the film's emotional impact is significantly less. One of the strongest aspects of the first four Rocky movies was the close relationship built between Rocky and Apollo over the course the first four movies which is what drives Rocky to train Adonis Creed so that he reaches his potential. Its the relationships between Rocky and Adonis Creed to Apollo Creed that really drives the film and gives the film its emotional punch. Even though Adonis has never met his father, his relationship with him is a strong one as he tries to build his own legacy and prove to others that he is more than just Apollo's son (there is one incredible moment nearing the end of the film that really does pull quite an emotional wallop).
Despite all the affection that the film shows towards the previous films it is perfectly capable of being a good film in its own right. Most notably the performance of Michael B. Jordan (who very much looks the part) is engaging and his relationship with Bianca (played by the excellent Tessa Thompson) is rather endearing to watch. It's also worth mentioning that Bianca has dreams and aspirations of her own and doesn't serve as just the titular girlfriend character. Also excellent is Sylvester Stallone and Maryse Albertie whose camera work during the boxing sequences makes them tense and exciting, particularly the single shot fight scene at the start of the film.