The Dark Knight Rises ★★★★½

In 2005, Christopher Nolan reinvented the cinematic Batman franchise with "Batman Begins". Three years later, he gave us "The Dark Knight", the best superhero movie to date and simply a great film in general. With "The Dark Knight Rises", Nolan brings his trilogy about the Caped Crusader to a spectacular, powerful, and thoroughly satisfying close.

Watching the 164-minute-long movie is an exhausting experience—exhausting but rewarding. It is a testament to Nolan’s storytelling skills that the film holds the viewer’s attention firmly from beginning to end, especially considering that the first act is slow-paced and relatively uneventful.

The screenplay, written by Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, seems a bit overloaded and is not exactly ironclad, but its flaws did not lessen my enjoyment of the resultant movie, which certainly delivers on almost every level. Grand in scope, the plot draws inspiration from current real-world issues concerning such things as economic inequality, corruption, and technology being a double-edged sword.

Batman is absent from the proceedings for long stretches of time, but the filmmakers turn that perceived flaw into one of the strengths of the movie. It has become fairly evident that the people of Gotham City and the city itself play an integral role in the trilogy’s narrative. Now, finally, the viewer can properly and fully grasp the notion of Batman being a symbol whose significance does not depend on a particular person. The Dark Knight does indeed rise, though not Batman the superhero as much as Batman the ultimately incorruptible symbol of hope and justice, of standing up for and doing what is right. Everyday heroism is a central theme of "The Dark Knight Rises".

Getting the big picture right, the film is free from glaring internal problems and inconsistencies, assuming an expectedly high degree of suspension of disbelief. Instead, the flaws can be found in the details. Among those are a few instances of inelegant exposition. Additionally, one character meets his demise in an unexpectedly unceremonious manner, and another one’s death at the end of the climactic battle comes across as exaggeratedly theatrical and should have been reshot. I also wish that Nolan would have come up with a creative way of avoiding the clichéd bomb with a countdown clock attached to it.

The action sequences are realistic as well as fluidly shot and edited. More often than not, those sequences involve various cool vehicles rather than close combat, which results in some impressive scenes. At the other end of the spectrum, the first hand-to-hand fight between Batman and Bane is disturbingly brutal.

There are a number of little character moments to appreciate in "The Dark Knight Rises"; some of them are wordless, all of them are instrumental in giving the film a heart and soul. Take, for example, Batman and Gordon’s last scene together, which is very touching. Furthermore, a familiar character makes an unexpected, brief appearance as a kind of judge, and the beginning of the last act features a neat homage to the theatrical poster for the previous installment. And I will only say this about the ending: it provides the perfect—perfect!—conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and it gave me a severe case of goosebumps.

Gorgeously lensed by Wally Pfister, the film could not have looked better, and it has a strong visual identity. Hans Zimmer’s vibrant, appropriately epic score reverberates in the viewer’s mind long after the end credits have rolled; the music truly soars during the final sequence.

The returning cast members—Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine—are all terrific in their roles (Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, and Alfred, respectively). In particular, Bale conveys the weight of his character’s physical and psychological burdens with remarkable effectiveness, and Caine’s masterful acting lends genuine poignancy to the scenes in which he appears.

What about the new additions to the cast, then? Working with little more than his eyes and voice, Tom Hardy is excellent as Bane, a more than worthy adversary to Batman, and he dominates the screen whenever he shows up on it; however, Bane is not quite as iconic a villain as Heath Ledger’s the Joker. Anne Hathaway brings both intelligence and sensuality to the role of the intriguing Selina Kyle; I like the ambiguity and shifting loyalties of her character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a shining performance as John Blake, whose idealism, sense of right and wrong, and heroic actions make him sympathetic, easily likable, and one of the highlights of "The Dark Knight Rises". Playing Miranda Tate, Marion Cotillard turns out to be the weakest card in the deck, although, to be fair, the script is more at fault than Cotillard.