The Dark Knight Rises was a good, but not great film that will unfortunately suffer in comparison to the previous film in the trilogy.
It has been eight years since the Batman has been seen in the streets of Gotham. Blamed for the death of Harvey Dent, Batman has gone into hiding, along with his alter ego Bruce Wayne. Gotham is no longer a corrupt town thanks to a (possibly illegal) law named after Dent that allows the police tremendous power. Bane, a former disciple of Ra's al Ghul (much like Batman) sees an opportunity to finish his master's undertaking and destroy Gotham. Seeing that his beloved city is about to burn to the ground, Batman reappears, but after eight years away, he is no longer the man he once was, and he is beaten by Bane and sent to the world's worst prison - Hell. Bane unleashes his fury upon Gotham, leading to a city cut off from the world, and only days away from being destroyed by a nuclear weapon. Will Batman escape the prison he's in - both physically and mentally - and return to save Gotham one last time? Or has the Batman finally met his match in the powerful Bane?
The Dark Knight will go down in history as arguably the greatest comic book movie in history. Granted, it wasn't a movie for everyone, but it was more of a serious film than other comic book movies. Christopher Nolan brought an edge to that film that made it serious as well as entertaining, unlike any other movie of its kind. But, it also had a once-in-a-lifetime performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. Though the timing of his death may have played a role in getting people to go see the film, his performance is what brought people back over and over. He made The Joker a serious villain, unlike anything we had seen before. While Jack Nicholson's Joker was over-the-top, Ledger's was down-to-Earth batshit crazy and we loved every second of it. To me, it was that role, that character, that iconic performance that took The Dark Knight to the upper echelons of movie history. It's almost impossible to follow a movie like that because the anticipation levels are ridiculous, and that's why The Dark Knight Rises didn't feel nearly as special.
The villain, Bane, wasn't nearly as compelling as The Joker. Yes, Bane was singularly brutal, moreso than anyone you can imagine, and yes he puts a beatdown on Batman the likes you'll never see again. But for some reason he never felt as dangerous. While The Joker was crazy and simply wanted to see the world burn, Bane seemingly had more of a reason to do what he did, and that reason felt dated, even though the movie just came out. The film really plays up the whole 1% vs. the 99% thing that was going on in NYC over the last couple of years. But the Occupy Wall Street movement died a while ago, and in this day and age if it didn't happen last week, it may as well have happened last decade. The other big problem with Bane is that he's often hard to understand when he speaks. I understood maybe 85% of what he said; the guy sitting next to me seemed like he got 10% because every time Bane spoke, the guy threw up his hands and said 'I have no idea what he's saying!' So do what you can to pay attention when Bane speaks. Bane's backstory, which comes out in bits and pieces throughout the film, was also strangely convoluted. It leads to a twist I certainly didn't see coming, but also one that felt like it was thrown in just to try and mess with the audience. I didn't gasp when it happened, I just kind of thought 'Hmm, OK, that's interesting.'
To me, Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle was arguably the best character in the film. Sexy and mysterious, she straddled that line between good and evil very well and you never were quite sure what side she'd end up on. The rest of the cast was standard, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's cop John Blake standing out the most. I seriously believe that boy is destined to win a couple of Oscars in his lifetime and I hope one day someone writes a great movie for him to star in. In fact, it's distinctly possible his character could spin off in the future if they play their cards right. Christian Bale did a good job as Bruce Wayne, a man who looked completely defeated after going into exile. I just wish there were more scenes of him as Batman. I thought the movie spent too long on his redemption, when I'm not sure there was as much need for him to be redeemed as you might think. He took the blame for Harvey Dent's death, making a criminal the figurehead for the city. But he knew what he did was right, as did a few others around him. So what if the rest of Gotham thought he was a murderer? He did what he needed to do to protect his city. They did all seem pleased when he returned after being away for so long so apparently there were no hard feelings.
Visually, the movie didn't really break any new ground. There was a couple of chase sequences that, while done pretty well, weren't anything different - or any better - than the one in The Dark Knight. The one-on-one fight scenes between Batman and Bane were pretty good, mainly because it felt unexpected. I never really imagined the two of them just simply fighting each other in hand-to-hand combat in a sewer. The look of the movie is top notch, as Nolan has an eye for this kind of modern gothic feel. And the music stands out because when the music swells you swell with it, ready to fight alongside Batman and his team. Were this not the end of the Batman epic trilogy and instead the second film (changing story elements of course) it would have seemed to be much better than it was, because it would have felt new. But after The Dark Knight, it was always going to be really hard to come up with something new and inventive.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked The Dark Knight Rises, I just wasn't blown away by it like I was by The Dark Knight. The lack of a truly compelling villain hurt the overall film, and the length of Batman/Bruce Wayne's brooding took it's toll on me. While a solid ending to the trilogy, it wasn't the best film of the three.