Rocky Balboa is a movie that needed to be made. Contrary to early naysayers, this franchise needed closure that failed to show through back in 1990 when audiences last visited with a cinematic icon. Sylvester Stallone directs, acts, and writes this final sequel and the result is a moving, nostalgic, and engrossing effort worthy of the Rocky name.Balboa is a flashback to the first installment of the franchise. Instead of following closely with the eventual opponent and building him up to create tension in the closing moments, it takes the opposite approach. This is squarely focused on Stallone, which takes nothing away from Antonio Tarver's believable performance in his first film role after reining as real life light heavyweight champion. Characters are re-introduced and follow Rocky's surprisingly long turn back into a pro boxer. Lesser characters make a re-appearance for nostalgic sake, such as Spider Rico, again played by Pedro Lovell. The movie builds its story around the death of Rocky's wife, and nearly everything focuses on that point. Fans looking for a rousing ego clash along the lines of those featured in Rocky III or IV are in for a wait. The emotional impact of the first 30 minutes is a complete departure from what the series had become.This leads a nearly flawless conclusion aside from a few blatant and distracting product placements. A trick ending sends the film in a direction that leans towards being predictable, then twists again to end the franchise on a somber note. The final words of the film could not have been chosen better. With only brief flashbacks and a somewhat darker tone, Balboa avoids extensive use of nostalgia to carry itself. Led by a multiple reworkings of the classic theme "Gonna Fly Now" at all times, it's the right way to mix old with new. Even though the film contains less than 15 minutes of total boxing, these scenes are believable and at times mirror any real life, pay-per-view boxing event. As expected, the script contains countless inspirational lines designed to bring the audience out of their seats and cheer. While at times forced, careful direction and believable performances splice these moments in where they should be. The inevitable training vignette is a long time in coming and the payoff is stronger because of it. The range of emotions created in Rocky Balboa is unmatched by any of the preceding movies in this series. Every open plot hole or question is clarified or answered, and it's done so with a sharp eye for details. This is an acceptable and yes, needed finish for a Hollywood legend.
"A sinister cabal of superior writers."