Comic book movies have a sad history of majorly disappointing third entries, some of which have even ended up being franchise killers. The list is littered with mediocrity, including X3 X-Men United, Blade Trinity, Spider-Man 3, of course Batman Forever, and sadly the list goes on. I had absolutely no worry that The Dark Knight Rises was going to continue in this trend though. I knew it might not be the best of the three, but it certainly wouldn't be bad or even disappointing, and it's not. It's a fantastic third act of one hell of an epic trilogy. If there are truly no more Batman films from these filmmakers, then it's an amazingly satisfying ending.
If you look at the films individually though, in my opinion Rises ends up being the worst of the three, particularly looking at it through the eyes of a comic book fanboy, but calling it the worst in this series is like saying it's the worst out of three different handjobs. I've mostly liked all of the minor tweaks and changes that have come with this version of the Bat universe, as with any conversion from book to film, certain things change, and I'm not one of those people who can't understand this concept. In that regard, I felt like this one was sadly, a bit predictable, including the film's main twist. If you know your Bat villains, nothing should really surprise you. That's what ends up being my main let down here, but it's hard to really describe without spoiling it. Basically up to this point I felt like Nolan was making the Batman movies we comic fans have always wanted, never attempted to use the characters that we've known for years as a way to "surprise" us with a twist that we would see right through, and that isn't the case with Rises. It kind of sucked to be able to call something REALLY early on that ends up being what was supposed to be the big shock of the film.
This one also has the least actual screen time for Batman. It's a Batman movie, but he takes a back seat to Bruce Wayne, Catwoman, Bane, and hell, just about every other character in the flick. Bale only appears in costume three, maybe four times. When he does, it's great, and this may sound like I'm being picky, but damn, it's a Batman movie and I'd like to see Batman in it a good bit. Even the trademark gadgets are almost non-existent. I didn't want him to open up his utility belt and pull out some "Bat Bane-repellant spray" or anything, but come on. Yeah he got the Batwing, although it's only ever referred to as "The Bat", and the Batpod makes a return, but the Tumbler is surprisingly absent, save for some of the desert camo prototypes that the bad guys end up getting their hands on, and there is almost nothing else. Lucius Fox even makes a little joke about Bruce not asking him for anything. I do have to say, the Batwing was freakin awesome though.
If I'm going to be completely honest with myself, I knew going into Rises that there was no way it would be able to top The Dark Knight. This is a Bane flick, and TDK had the Joker, plain and simple. No matter how badass Christopher Nolan was able to make Bane, my own personal preferences would be keeping me from enjoying this more than a Joker/Two-Face movie. I've never liked Bane, not in the comics and certainly not in Batman and Robin, but what the hell, nothing in that movie was likable. In Rises, Nolan managed to do what I would've thought impossible, he not only made Bane a serious villain, a truly scary villain, but he also managed to make me like him, a lot. As a matter of fact, out of the three movies, I'd say Bane ended up only behind Joker and Scarecrow in order of my favorite villains. That's no small feat, and it's a credit to Nolan's vision for Batman. Of course he doesn't get all the credit, and it's certainly worth mentioning that Tom Hardy is not only excellent in the role, but ends up stealing the movie. His delivery of some of the dialog actually gave me chills. He's also put on some serious weight for the part, and is as physically intimidating as we've seen from these movies. Nothing Batman has faced up until this point has actually made you wonder if he would be able to actually win, and that's not the case here. Bane brings the pain in a way that has never been done before in a Batman movie.
The other thing most people seemed to be concerned with when the first images started hitting the web was Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. Allow me to put those fears to rest, this is as good as Catwoman has ever been done in a movie. Sure, Michelle Pfeiffer nailed the "sexy" part of the character in Batman Returns, but that movie completely ignored the biggest part of the character, the fact that she's a cat burglar. She's not an undead, crazy cat lady. Anne Hathaway is absolutely wonderful, and plays the good vs bad nature of Selina Kyle perfectly. She is in constant conflict with herself, fighting her desire for crime, and her desire for Batman, who always seems to be able to bring out the good in her. It's what makes the character so great, and Rises portrays it exactly the way I think it should be done. I wasn't crazy about the Robin-style mask with flip-up lenses that looked similar to cat ears, but I get why it's there. Had Catwoman not appeared in any sort of a mask in this flick, the internet would've been calling for Nolan's head. Plus, it's a comic book movie, and I'm sure everybody involved wanted to wear a mask. I know I would have.
The rest of the returning cast is as good as they've been in the first two. Thankfully, Christian Bale tones down the "I just gargled broken glass" voice he used for Batman, and I think this is actually hist best Bruce Wayne so far. Gary Oldman just straight up IS Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman is wonderful as Lucius Fox, and Michael Kane is a fine Alfred. The other newcomers vary, I thought Matthew Modine was great as the sniveling police captain who wanted Gordon's job as Commissioner, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a personal favorite of mine, and chews up quite a bit of screen time as a rookie Gotham City cop named Blake. I wasn't impressed by Marion Cotillard as potential new love interest for Bruce Wayne, Miranda Tate. She actually had a pretty big part in the grand scheme of things, and her performance was disappointingly flat for me.
All of my minor nitpicks aside, I still think The Dark Knight Rises is an achievement the likes of which do not come along very often. For all the good that's been done for comic book films over the last decade, Christopher Nolan's work on the Batman franchise has given a credibility to the medium that rivals that of any other film genre. As a matter of fact, I would put Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and yes, even The Dark Knight Rises up against any movie recognized by the Academy as Best Picture in any of their respective release years. The fact that the highest award that The Dark Knight won was a "best supporting actor" nod for Heath Ledger is a fucking travesty. I'm also willing to bet that there are a lot of people out there who would rather watch The Dark Knight than Slumdog Millionaire too, I damn sure would. Peter Jackson did it for fantasy with The Lord of the Rings, and the day is going to come when the nomination committees are going to have to wake up and recognize that comic book movies are well-deserving of more consideration too.
In closing, as I had no intention of going on this long, Rises ended up delivering the goods, living up to most of my expectations, and yes, even surpassing some. As with most things in life, I felt like it could've used a little more Batman, but I left with a newfound love for a character that I previously hated, so I can live with that tradeoff. It's a visually stunning movie, with a well paced plot that takes Batman and comes closer to breaking him both physically and mentally, before his inevitable "RISE" back up. Christopher Nolan makes movies in which everything, from actors performances, to camera work, music, and effects, all blends so well together, that you wonder why more people aren't capable of this quality of work on such a consistent basis. The Dark Knight Rises is not to be missed.