At the end of the movie, the two main characters, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) are standing at the top of the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Yes, it's an homage to the famous scene in the original “Rocky” movie, where ( a much younger) Stallone bounds up the stairs triumphantly in the midst of his training regimen. In this film, Rocky Balboa is now a shadow of his former self; he's old and he's sick and he's out of shape. But after they finally arrive, he says to his protege, Adonis, that you can pretty much see your whole life from up here. And when he asks, “How's the view?” The response is “Not bad at all.”
That's pretty much the self-inflicted epitaph for this whole movie. Not bad at all. Stallone reprises his Rocky Balboa character, but he now acts his age. He lives a simple life, hanging out at his restaurant, driving an old van to carry grocery supplies, and mostly eating alone. He visits the grave sites of his old best friend, Paulie, and his late wife, Adrian. He brings the newspaper to the cemetery, and pulls out a wooden chair hidden in a tree branch, and reads them both the headlines. Later, he even admits to Adnois that most of his life is behind him, and so are the people he really cared about, so the idea of going to join them doesn't really bother him that much.
Yes, Rocky Balboa is diagnosed with a serious illness, Non-Hodgins Lymphoma. His doctor says that it doesn't have to be fatal; there are treatments, but Rocky really doesn't want to put himself through all that. He has a son, who's married and living in Vancouver, but they don't see each other much. No grandchildren mentioned. Nobody to really take a special interest in, until Adonis Johnson shows up at his doorstep.
Adonis, it turns out, is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, the fighter who started out as Rocky's arch-rival, but both men came to respect each other for their skills, until Apollo died as a result of injuries suffered in the boxing ring. At the time, Apollo was married, to Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), and the grieving widow didn't pay any attention to Adonis, until she learned that his mother had died, also, and Adonis was bounced around several foster homes, and wound up in juveline detention. Then Mary Anne took him in and raised him as her own.
Adonis grew up with a good education and with somebody who loved him, and he succeeded. He'd just received a promotion at the investment firm where he was working, until he pre-emptorily decided to just discard the easy life, and chase his dream: to be a boxer, like his Dad. He'd fought all his life, mostly on the playgrounds and recently, surreptitously, on illegal gambling venues in Juarez. He thought he was good, but he'd never really been properly trained. So he shows up at Rocky Balboa's and asks him to be his trainer.
At first, Rocky is adamant that he is out of the game now, and has no interest in getting back in. But something about Adonis appeals to him; he's persistent, he's hungry, and besides, he's Apollo's son. So reluctantly, Rocky agrees, and now we have the familiar format of the underdog training like mad, under a team assembled by Rocky himself. The first clumsy victory is like elixir to Adonis, but it all gets turned up a notch when the light heavyweight champ challenges him, simply because there are no other contenders available.
As in the original “Rocky,” it seems like all the boxing strategy goes out the window after the first punch is thrown, and then it's just a street brawl with gloves. Jordan is credible in this role, but the star is still Sylvester Stallone, who does a convincing caricature of himself. Despite all the ring violence, there are some lighthearted moments, and some romance---Adonis meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a local blues singer, and there are some sparks there, and some heartache, too. But as Rocky says to Adonis, the person he's really up against is himself.