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'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012)/Directed by Christopher Nolan/Grade: B+

Now we come to the epic conclusion of what's easily become the most popular and talked-about superhero trilogy ever (not even Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy quite matches it). And when I first saw it as a twelve-year-old, it was the most AMAZING, epic thing ever! Rewatching it more recently when I was twenty-two, I started to notice the flaws a lot more. Like, a lot more. But at the same time, I couldn't deny my continuing interest. I'll explain more below.

For those who've still not seen it, the story picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight (2008), wherein Bruce Wayne (once again portrayed by Christian Bale) remains holed up in his mansion, Batman is gone, and crime has been greatly reduced in Gotham due to the Dent Act, a law enforced following Harvey Dent's (Aaron Eckhart) death. However, a new threat rises with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy, never more physically imposing or intimidating) and his army of goons. Soon, Bruce is compelled to bring Batman back, and in facing up to Bane, is forced to confront his painful past.

As the penultimate chapter in a trilogy, this movie really upped the spectacle to the max. Wally Pfister's cinematography, which utilizes the IMAX format even more than its predecessor, really creates a massive sense of scale that makes the action sequences leap off the screen, and increases the sense of this being an epic. The opening, wherein Bane hijacks a plane to kidnap a Russian nuclear physicist, ranks amongst my favorite action sequences ever. That, plus other scenes like an attack on the stock exchange, the blowing up of a football field, and a war between the police and the criminals, feels thrillingly large, intense, and full of stakes.

This movie draws out Christian Bale's best work as Bruce Wayne in particular, since this character's journey is coming to a head. You truly feel how stuck this man is in his pain and trauma, his reluctance to move beyond this chapter of his life. That also creates a heartbreaking and compelling rift between him and Alfred (Michael Caine, never better as this iconic supporting role), his pseudo-father figure that desperately wants him to leave all that behind.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is believably noble as John Blake, a rookie cop who believes in what Batman stood for. However, Anne Hathaway as Selena Kyle, the cat burglar who would come to be known as Catwoman, is quite a mixed bag. The snide, maniacal villain side of her is clearly for show, which is mainly due to Hathaway not once being convincing in that department. However, when Selena is being real and vulnerable, and especially once she joins Batman in his cause, I really bought her performance.

Tom Hardy is suitably menacing as Bane, though there is an element of his character's progression that bugs me beyond belief. During the climax, right when Batman's got him down for the count, it's suddenly revealed that Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who had supposedly been helping Wayne Enterprises throughout the story, is actually the evil mastermind. Not only that, minutes later, Bane just randomly gets shot dead by Catwoman via gun turrets within the Batpod. After so much buildup of this guy as our main threat, this feels overwhelmingly anticlimactic.

Now, if Miranda had been revealed as an antagonist midway through the film, or about midway, this would've given us more time to acclimate to her being the main villain, and to the idea of her and Bane being a duo. But while there are subtle hints sprinkled throughout at Miranda's intentions, the decision to reveal her true nature within the last twenty minutes, only to have her be killed off soon after, makes me feel cheated as a viewer, which takes away some of the satisfaction of seeing good triumph over evil.

Another character, John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), purely exists as a technical plot device, meant to be used and manipulated by Bane so that he can use Daggett's resources until he's obtained Bruce Wayne's money, in order to fund the rest of his schemes. As a greedy businessman who just wants to absorb Wayne's company, I don't care about him at all, compared to the mobsters that hired The Joker in The Dark Knight. There, I felt their desperation, as Batman and Harvey Dent were gradually putting more and more of them in prison.

The movie redeems itself by the end, though, by having Bruce and Selena get out of Gotham for good, a fitting end for two characters that have, by choice or not, been stuck in one place throughout their lives, and who now choose not to be anymore.

In the end, The Dark Knight Rises is a thrilling, if frustrating, end to Christopher Nolan's Batman. It appropriately takes its characters to the darkest possible place before finally allowing the light to shine through, and despite having a fair amount of hiccups along the way, the positives ultimately outweigh them enough for me to continue to come back.

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