He's an old man now, bulky but frail, and when he ascends the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he has to stop to catch his breath.
But from the moment Sylvester Stallone shows up in "Creed" — both successor to and latter day knock-off of the original "Rocky" — you know everything is going to be OK.
"How ya doin'?" he drawls in that familiar mumble that sounds like a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and a cement mixer.
There's a visceral thrill in realizing this actor, this character — however aged and enfeebled — is the same one who burst onscreen almost 40 years ago to take the world by storm.
He really did. The original "Rocky" — like its title character — was a classic underdog that, fronted by an unknown former porn actor, almost didn't get made.
And then, of course, it won three Oscars, including Best Picture, became the highest grossing movie of 1976 and spawned six sequels over 40 years.
Not all of them were good, mind you.
"Rocky II" kept the dream alive, but by "Rocky III" the seams were showing and Rockys IV and V seemed more a reflection of Stallone's rapidly escalating ego than anything to do with the concept of pride, faith and being true to oneself.
Downtrodden David had turned into sloppy overconfident Goliath. And no one roots for Goliath, even when he's pitted against a vicious, mohawked Mr. T.
So when Stallone revisited his iconic character in Rocky Balboa 16 years later, expectations were, shall we say, not high.
Come on, Rocky as a 60-year-old?
What could the washed-up actor who played him — recipient of multiple Golden Raspberry Awards as Worst Actor — possibly add to a franchise that died a natural death at the tail end of the Reagan era?
And then, BAM! Damned if the thuggish marblemouth didn't pull another rabbit out of his hat.
I still remember trying to convince my girlfriend, now wife, to go see what turned out to be a surprisingly moving meditation on life, love and accepting your limitations.
"Rocky Balboa" is brilliant, I told her. Not a boxing flick at all. It's about aging and redemption and human frailty and the passage of time.
She wasn't buying it, and opted for "The Da Vinci Code" instead. But like Rocky himself, I didn't give up.
And now, nine years later, there's "Creed" to bolster my case, casting the punch drunk survivor as a Yoda-like father figure coaching an eager new recruit. Rocky: The Next Generation.
It's worth pointing out that with an 82 per cent rating on Metacritic, "Creed" has better reviews than "Rocky Balboa," which scored a measly 63.
Had such aggregate sites existed 39 years ago, it would likely have a higher ranking than the original "Rocky" as well.
But make no mistake: it's the lesser film, trading its predecessor's elegiac resonance for a paint-by-numbers story that adds nothing to the Rocky canon.
It's well acted, capably directed and boasts a gritty edge to offset the torrent of clichés, but it feels patched together, a Rocky mosaic, with relationships that don't always ring true and plot twists that announce themselves with the subtlety of a right hook.
Those rave reviews? More for the future potential of director Ryan Coogler (critics loved his previous film, Fruitvale Station) than for "Creed" itself.
And, of course, for Stallone, who channels emotion with every tortured grimace and has a face so beaten up it looks like its own wax effigy.
"So how'd you beat him?" his new protégé asks about the legendary fight with his father, the fondly remembered Apollo Creed.
"Time beat him,'' notes Rocky, talking as much about himself. "Time takes everybody out. It's undefeated."
Plagued with health issues, one step from a wheelchair, the aging legend spends his time reading newspapers in cemeteries, lamenting the loss of loved ones, and lumbering around Philadelphia's working class district like an arthritic dinosaur. The Italian Brontosaurus.
And yet somehow, it feels right.
"I am quite aware that I'm locked into this image forever," Stallone told Rolling Stone way back in 1982. "Forever."
"I could live 10 lifetimes, I'll always be Rocky. But maybe that's the way it's supposed to be. Maybe that's what I was born to do."
You think it's easy?
Arnold Schwarzenegger tried the same trick with last summer's "Terminator: Genisys" — playing an older version of the killer cyborg that endeared him to a generation — and came off like a sitcom version of his former lethal self. Grandpa from "The Munsters."
But Arnie was never a good actor, a stilted performer whose Teutonic accent made him ideally suited to playing sword-wielding barbarians and implacable humanoid robots.
Stallone — whose best roles embraced an endearing sense of pathos — was a different story.
People today laugh about "Rocky," a gritty urban fairy tale choking on schmaltz whose star has an acting range, they claim, somewhere between a maggot and a piece of cheese.
Elvis without the guitar.
How, they wonder, did it win the Best Picture Oscar over more deserving contenders like "All The President's Men," "Taxi Driver" and "Network?"
Were the Academy members ingesting peyote?
But if you watch it today — in this era of special effects blockbusters — it's like an indie-minded art film, all crumbling alleyways and muffled, blue collar ambition, with a visceral performance by Stallone that practically leaps off the screen.
A young Marlon Brando, they called him then — Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro rolled into one.
It was true, for awhile — he had the goods, the emotional complexity. Did you see 1997's "Cop Land?" He was fantastic.
Then Stallone lost his way, thought he could transfer that electricity, that rawness, to other roles.
But if one thing has become clear in the four decades between then and now, it's that the 69-year-old survivor is at his best when he relates to the material, when his onscreen experiences are hard-wired to his own life.
"Creed" is that film. And when the Oscar nominations are rolled out early in the new year, don't be surprised if Stallone's star — dusty, faded, but with an arresting glint peeking through the surface — rises once again.