Rocky … Again?

A new sequel starts shooting this month. Don’t groan.

Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/Getty Images

Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/Getty Images

At some point this month, you’ll no doubt be seeing paparazzi photos of Sylvester Stallone in and around Philadelphia. The mega-rich star is coming to town to shoot the newest movie in the once-thought-to-be-dead Rocky franchise: Creed. It’s about Apollo Creed’s grandson, Adonis, who wants to step into the ring to honor the legacy of Apollo (who died in Rocky IV); a reluctant Rocky eventually agrees to manage and train him.

I know you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. I did. I even imagined myself writing some ranting screed called “It’s Time to Let Rocky Die.” But I’ve changed my tune.

It’s easy to dismiss any sequel out of hand, but the fact is, the legacy of the Rocky series has been unfairly marred by its fifth installment, a putrid waste of celluloid devoid of any cultural value. Rocky V co-starred Stallone’s son Sage. Enough said.

But the first Rocky was a masterpiece of independent filmmaking and truly stands the test of time. Rocky is a time capsule of a gritty Philadelphia long before Ed Rendell and Stephen Starr changed things around. It’s as important a “Philadelphia movie” as Philadelphia.

Rocky II was quick to follow. It wasn’t quite Rocky, but then, there’s only been one arguable instance of a sequel exceeding or even matching its predecessor in quality, and that was The Godfather: Part II. Still, Rocky II was a strong-enough contender.

The third Rocky was pure entertainment, with Mr. T as Balboa foe Clubber Lang. The also-entertaining fourth brought out Dolph Lundgren as Russian monster Drago, a meow-inducing Brigitte Nielsen, and James Brown singing “Living In America.” And the sixth Rocky, 2006’s Rocky Balboa, was a beautiful, small, nostalgic film that surprised most audiences who sat down to watch it. Point is: The good in the Rocky franchise far outweighs the bad.

But the really encouraging part about all this is that Creed wasn’t Stallone’s idea. Writer-director Ryan Coogler, whose emotional 2013 hit Fruitvale Station was critically acclaimed, proposed Creed to Stallone and longtime producer Irwin Winkler. And Coogler brings with him Fruitvale star Michael B. Jordan.

We still have a while to go to find out whether my optimism is misplaced. But while Creed may not be a Godfather II of the film world, it’ll surely be no Godfather III.

Originally published as “Again?” in the January 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.