The Dark Knight Rises is a spectacular and thrilling conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.
With Christian Bale portraying the brooding, conflicted Batman again -- probably for the last time -- this trilogy is now the best of its kind. Regardless of the number of installments, no other comic book franchise can boast being this great, so consistently, and for so long.
Nolan also leaves a window open for sequels, although not necessarily for Batman and not necessarily for Nolan to direct. Among other possibilities, Anne Hathaway's sensational introduction as Catwoman makes a stand-alone movie for her enticing. Damn, the girl's good in the physical aspects of her cat burglar role, as well as being sexy and funny whether playing Selina Kyle or her feline alter-ego.
For audiences who want smart storytelling with their adrenaline rush, The Dark Knight Rises, which opens late Thursday, is as profoundly moving as it is dynamic. It is as intimate as it is huge, especially in the IMAX format. It is as surprising as it is predictable, thanks to plot twists that you don't see coming. It is as occasionally amusing as it is dark and brooding, and spikes of comic relief are welcome in all the madness.
This franchise is also deeply rooted in the 73-year history of Batman, including the Frank Miller phase. Yet Nolan also layered in original ideas. For example, The Dark Knight Rises is inspired by the French Revolution, with specific references to Charles Dickens' epic historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities. As a result, there is a balance of the familiar and the fantastic that makes the movie both realistic and larger-than-life.
The scenario for The Dark Knight Rises is actually pretty simple, even if the plotting gets complicated. In movie time, it is eight years after the end of The Dark Knight (although only four years passed in real time). Batman is disgraced and retired. Bruce Wayne is a crippled recluse moping about his mansion, wallowing in self-pity. Then arch-villain Bane arrives with his disposable henchmen to foment a people's revolution. Gotham is thrown into anarchy. Will Batman emerge from hiding to save the city?
The excellent core cast is back: Bale, of course, with Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. New are Hathaway along with Marion Cotillard as Wayne's engaging new love interest, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an idealistic Gotham policeman and Tom Hardy as the brutish Bane. Miraculously -- because this is a comic book movie -- Nolan humanizes them all, even Bane, in interesting ways.
A technical point: Unlike in the sneak previews, you can actually hear most of what Hardy says as the masked and muffled Bane. Nolan has obviously clarified the dialogue. For that matter, the technical accomplishments of the whole are at the highest levels. This popcorn movie is a cinematic banquet.