The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR)

Directed By: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Morgan Freeman

During a summer blockbuster season that's offered moviegoers ass-kicking Avengers, web-slinging heroes, time-traveling secret agents, and weed-smoking teddy bears, the Dark Knight has finally arrived!  It's been four years since Christopher Nolan's landmark film The Dark Knight, and not much has changed.  It's still regarded as the greatest comic book movie of all time.  In fact, writer David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible, and Spider-Man) considers it to be The Godfather for our generation.  If The Dark Knight is The Godfather, then The Dark Knight Rises is The Godfather: Part II.  We will forever debate which is better.

It's been eight years since the Joker cast Gotham into chaos, and the subsequent peace in that time has been built on a lie.  Batman (Christian Bale) has not been seen in years as he has taken the blame for Harvey Dent's death as well as Dent's victims.  Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has been branding Batman as a criminal all this time, and it's eating him alive.  It has even cost him his marriage.  Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has been a recluse for some time now.  Without his alter ego Batman, he doesn't have a reason to go outside to get some fresh air, to run his company Wayne Enterprises, or to even live some semblance of a normal life.

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is just a hungry girl who's gotta eat.  Tasked by Wayne Enterprises board member and corrupt businessman John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), Kyle comes to a charity event at Wayne Manor disguised as a server.  At the instruction of Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), Kyle takes dinner over to Bruce Wayne in the east wing of the mansion.  She has a different agenda, however.  She lifts Wayne's fingerprints from a safe in the mansion and sells them to Daggett.  Along the way, she steals a pearl necklace that once belonged to Martha Wayne.  Bruce happens to encounter the skilled jewel thief in the process and she attacks him in her escape.

There's a storm coming to Gotham.  Bane (Tom Hardy), a man born in hell and trained by Ras Al Ghul (Liam Neeson & Josh Pence), is the man who's bringing it.  Now heading the League of Shadows, he intends to finish the work Ras himself could not complete, destroying Gotham.  Working with Daggett, Bane infiltrates the sewers of Gotham and begins to take over the city.  The Dark Knight must rise to stop this threat before Bane destroys the city, but it may already be too late.  The pieces have already been put in place.

The Dark Knight Rises is a rousing conclusion to the Dark Knight legend and a film that indeed rivals The Dark Knight as a comic book masterpiece.  Director Christopher Nolan has crafted a truly connected trilogy of the highest caliber.  Having watched all three films together last night, I can see the connection between them more clearly than ever.  While the aftermath of the chaos that took place in The Dark Knight sets the stage for the film, TDKR is more about Batman Begins and the conflict between the League of Shadows and its wayward student Bruce Wayne.  A fire does rise as the Batman gets back in the game.

Christopher Nolan fulfills a promise made in Batman Begins to make his titular character Bruce Wayne a legend.  What I truly respect and appreciate about this trilogy is that Nolan has decided to keep Batman as the films' sole hero.  Unlike the previous Batman series, we won't see Robin (at least not as part of the Dynamic Duo), Batgirl, or any other superhero sidekicks.  With this in mind, Nolan's star Christian Bale is better than ever as this singularly burdened hero.  Though his Bruce Wayne has retired from the life of being Batman, Bale does not look like a man who hasn't suited up as the caped crusader in four years.  He gives us a tortured character that fully understands who he is as a hero.  Whether a billionaire or a bum, Bale's Batman rises to the challenge.  Bale has given us the greatest on-screen Batman ever!

Each of Nolan's Batman films has a theme that the villain embraces and embodies.  In Batman Begins, Ras Al Ghul brought fear.  In The Dark Knight, the Joker brought chaos.  In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane only brings pain.  Whether he was born in hell or in darkness, Tom Hardy's Bane is a very different villain from what we've seen in the previous movies.  He's a physically imposing villain that oozes with pure, lucid evil.  He's undeniably menacing, and every moment he's on screen is much darker for it.  Tom Hardy gives a great performance as one of the film's main villains.  While no Heath Ledger, he does exactly what he's supposed to do — inflict pain.

Anne Hathaway is pitch-perfect as Catwoman.  Her delightfully playful portrayal of Selina Kyle rivals Michelle Pfeiffer's take on the character 20 years ago in Batman Returns.  She gives us a dark yet captivating antihero.  She's sexy.  She's mysterious.  She's hilarious.  Her storyline and performance are the most intriguing parts of The Dark Knight Rises, and she really helps to make the film something special.  Hathaway's Catwoman may disappoint Mr. Wayne time and time again, but she never lets moviegoers down.

Marion Cotillard's Miranda Tate is another mysterious character, and she brings a whole lot to the film.  She plays a much more integral role in the movie than expected and now stands as one of the pivotal figures in Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.  I won't spoil the film for you.  All I will say is this.  She plays her cards close to the chest, and you should never underestimate her.  It's the slow knife that'll always get you.

The other cast members give the film its conscience.  The two that stand out are Michael Caine's Alfred Pennyworth and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake.  The veteran actor Michael Caine just gives an emotionally gripping performance.  His character does what he has to do to try and keep Bruce out of harm's way.  Caine gives a powerful supporting performance.  As Joseph Gordon-Levitt's John Blake becomes more familiar with the "shackles of the system", he learns that simple rules of right and wrong do not apply in the most extreme circumstances.  He gives the cops a moral compass in the midst of intense tragedy.  In reprising their roles as Commissioner Gordon and Lucius Fox, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman bring their best to the film as well.

The Dark Knight is an immensely powerful tale, and I can understand why Christopher Nolan waited to tackle this film until he felt the story was right.  Nolan claims to have been motivated to make The Dark Knight Rises by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.  While not quite as epic as Return of the King, TDKR stands as one of the great action movies of all time.  It's no surprise that The Dark Knight Rises gets a sober rating.  With brilliant direction from Nolan, strong performances from his stellar cast, and an incredible story of pain, it stands as a gripping, intense tale that concludes The Dark Knight trilogy in the most satisfying way possible.  For all intents and purposes, our summer movie season is now complete.

As I close this review, I would like to extend my condolences to all the victims of last night's shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  It's a tragic, senseless event that cost precious lives and will weigh heavily on our hearts for some time.  Please keep those victims in your prayers.