Rocky Balboa ★★★★

I didn't grow up with the Rocky series—as it happens, this is the only sequel even released in my lifetime—yet watching the grand finale I still get smacked with the pangs of nostalgia. It's the kind of film that draws so heavily on the past you almost feel as though you were part of it yourself. It's also the first sequel, in my opinion, that comes close to challenging the original in terms of quality. Like that first film, Stallone creates a mirror-image of his own life, unafraid to draw comparisons to his own long-gone heyday and residence at that time well within the has-been camp. It's an incredibly personal piece that displays the man's finest work both before and behind the camera, this a stunningly emotive performance from him at the same time as an assured directorial effort. I could watch it endlessly; the amount of little references to all the other films is such a treat to behold, and the story itself is the perfect revival of the character. Sure it seems fantastical, but this is Rocky, the same guy who came from nowhere to become the greatest. I should spare a few words for Burt Young too, his work here surpasses all else he's done throughout the series. Just like Rocky had concluded with the perfect ending 30 years prior, Balboa's last round closes his saga in the only way it could ever be closed. I'm not sure if any film series has ever concluded so nobly, deservedly, and inspirationally. Right here Stallone proves himself as both an actor and director who may be past his prime but still has plenty to offer; no matter where he goes in the future he'll always retain my respect.