Marvel is so good at pumping out passable superhero sequels that it’s easy to forget what a truly good sequel should be. Captain America: Winter Soldier managed to clear that bar, but that was four years and 11 movies ago. Leave it to Creed II to remind us what we should be striving for.

Listen, I know Creed II isn’t technically a superhero movie, but really it is. Hear me out, the new sequel from director Steven Caple Jr. and Cheo Hodari Coker (Ryan Coogler was busy with Black Panther), has all the trappings of a Marvel or DC film: towering heroes and villains, a Shakespearean struggle, and a story of violent redemption.

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) doesn’t have superpowers, but he looks like The Flash as he sprints through the desert in a training montage halfway through the film. And the villain, a hulking Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) might as well be made of steel. After taking multiple punches without flinching, the first time Drago’s skin actually gets bruised it’s like watching Superman bleed. Unthinkable. Powerful. Inhuman.

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Victor Drago (right)

Meanwhile, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is like a Stan Lee cameo stretched across an entire movie — in the best way possible. He’s equal parts wise old man and comic relief, speaking in a mangled English that almost sounds like poetry. In one particularly touching scene, Rocky visits his wife’s grave, describing himself as a “chunk of yesterday” who can’t reconnect with his estranged son.

As for Tessa Thompson, she’s perfect (no surprises there). As an actor she carries more weight than anyone,, conveying emotion in every line even when she’s speaking in sign language. Her character, Bianca, is equally impressive as a successful musician who also serves as Creed’s rock through one of the toughest times in his life.

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Rocky, Creed, and Bianca

Creed II picks up several fights after the original left off. Opening in Russia, where Rocky Balboa’s old rival Ivan Drago (a still-smoldering Dolph Lundgren) trains his large adult son for battle. Back in America, Creed is one fight away from the heavyweight championship. He wins it a little too easily, setting our hero up for an even greater fall.

That fall comes quickly. The Dragos arrive in Philadelphia to find a city that worships Rocky like a god. Standing at the top of the steps Stallone first sprinted up back in 1976, they survey their new land like Michael B. Jordan’s supervillain in Black Panther. Then, almost effortlessly, they claim it.

Creed 2
Creed 2

That first fight between Creed and Drago ends almost before it begins, crushed under the weight of its own history. Creed wants revenge on Drago senior for killing his father, while Drago wants revenge on Rocky for ending his career. Rocky sits the entire thing out.

After a painful recovery, Creed reassembles his team and prepares for an epic rematch, this time taking the fight back to Drago’s home turf. Saying any more would ruin a battle for the ages. Just know that Creed II will have you humming along with Rocky’s iconic theme song before the credits roll.

Creed II hits theaters on November 21.

Photos via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios