The much-awaited, much-publicized ''Godfather Part III'' should please those people who have followed this saga that began with the original film in 1972.
The third film has the same texture, the same kind of passion that distinguished the first two movies. The closing sequence is a little florid, but then the ''Godfather'' movies have always been operatic in fiber, and the sequence does work, as well as it did when Alfred Hitchcock used it.
The new film takes place 20 years after the events in the second film. It is 1979, and Michael Corleone, now in his sixties, is living in New York where he is leading the better life. Over the years, he has gone straight. He and ''the family'' are out of the rackets and into legitimate investment.
Our pasts, however, have a way of catching up with us, and Corleone's does with him. His trouble begins when Joey Zasa, played by Joe Mantegna, takes over the shabbier businesses Corleone left behind. He is, for instance, dealing in drugs, and because Corleone represents opposition Zasa does not want, he makes a grand attempt on Michael's life.
This is a particularly imaginative incident, even for the ''Godfather'' movies, and it is matched, at close, by the finale which takes place at the Palermo Opera House where Corleone's son, who has chosen a singing career, is doing the lead in ''Cavalleria Rusticana.''
As the singers engage in operatic skullduggery on stage, there are similar doings in the boxes and the halls leading to those boxes.
The ending is part cliche, and we wish that Francis Ford Coppola, who produced and directed the film, had used another denouement, but that's how it is with this film, one that is, over all, strong enough to make us overlook the weaknesses.
There are many plot lines. One has Michael Corleone buying into Banco Ambrosiano after an archbishop has left a $600 million hole in the books.
Things get very involved at this point, but if you find yourself scoffing at the dramatics, remember that Coppola is only using headlines. Of course, he takes matters farther than the newspapers did, but rumors of such a deed have been circulating about the death of Pope John Paul I.
Coppola also went to the headlines for the character of Zasa, who is gunned down when he takes part in an Italian-American Day parade, one that had its real-life counterpart years ago when a member of a leading crime family was shot to death as he took part in a similar parade.
This particular sequence is especially vivid, and there are other sequences that are just as strong. ''The Godfather Part III'' is, altogether, a most respectable film, one that may not be as good as the first in the trio but is just about as good as the second.
The only real weakness in the movie, one that was shot in this country, Sicily and Italy, is Sofia Coppola, the producer-director's 16-year-old daughter who was given the role of Michael's daughter when Winona Ryder dropped out of the cast.
Sofia is not as bad as others have said she is. She doesn't ruin the film, but she is painfully inexperienced and should never have been allowed to do the role. The director said it was simply a case of getting someone who would show up for work, but it is likely he could have found someone more equal to the task anywhere in New York.
Andy Garcia is Vincent Mancini, illegitimate son of Sonny, who was played by James Caan in the first ''Godfather'' movie. Vincent is now of age and wants to work for his uncle. His uncle is not receptive to the idea, but he takes the boy, who, at first, looks like trouble. Actually, he isn't. He is quick to kill, when necessary, but he is all in favor of the Corleones following the new line.
Garcia sounds like a younger version of Al Pacino, who continues as Michael. If there is a fourth ''Godfather'' movie, maybe a cable movie, Garcia should be able to step into the lead with no trouble.
As for Pacino, he is, as usual, immense. Few actors are as commanding as this. Few have the screen presence this man has.
Many of the actors who took part in the first two films, are seen in the new film. Among them are Al Martino, who continues as Johnny Fontane (remember the horse's head on the bed of the Hollywood producer?), Talia Shire as Michael's sister, and Diane Keaton as Michael's ex-wife, now married to a judge.
Among the new faces are those of Eli Wallach as Don Altobello, an old friend of the Corleone clan; Donal Donnelly as the archbishop who has chosen the wrong profession; and Franc D'Ambrosio, who plays Anthony, son of Michael, and does his own singing during those 20 minutes of ''Cavalleria.''
''The Godfather Part III'' has its weaknesses, but when it is strong, it is very strong. Despite its length, two hours and 40 minutes, it never bores. The film opens at area theaters today.
"The Godfather Part III" ***The continued adventures of Michael Corleone, successor to the empire established by his father, Don Vito Corleone. Here, Michael become legitimate but is unable to shake his past.
CAST: Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, Bridget Fonda, George Hamilton, Sofia Coppola, Raf Vallone, Franc D'Ambrosio, Donal Donelly, Al Martino, John Savage
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
RATING: R (violence, language)
TIME: 161 minutes