The Dark Knight Rises, the final entry in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, has big batboots to fill. With The Dark Knight, Nolan upped the ante from the more traditional Batman Begins, reintroducing the Caped Crusader's most violent and terrifying enemy -- the Joker. While Heath Ledger's performance as a twisted, sociopathic supervillain was brilliant, his death made it impossible to revisit the character for the inevitable sequel. Relying on Bane (who, in the comics, broke Batman's spine), a more physically imposing adversary than the Joker, is a bit of a gamble, however; that gamble pays off big. In an attempt to keep the film's (many) secrets, this review will be spoiler-free.
It's been eight years since Batman has patrolled Gotham City, accepting the blame for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), aka Two-Face, and the city is seemingly at peace. Everything Batman/Bruce Wayne has fought for has paid off - organized crime is gone, the bad guys are locked up, and the city has recovered from the mayhem of the Joker. Bruce Wayne has assumed the guise of a Howard Hughes-like figure, lurking in the shadows of Wayne Manor, his body racked with pain from his moonlighting as Batman.
Unfortunately for Gotham, the League of Shadows (enemies from the first film) are about to attack the city. In order to save the day, Batman must clear his name and forge an uneasy alliance with a professional thief while also doing battle with Bane. Though The Dark Knight Rises does mostly everything right, there are minor complaints. Chief among them is Anne Hathaway's lazy performance as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). She's not a terrible actress, but her performance here is simply that - not terrible. In a film where everyone's on their A-game, being simply mediocre makes you stand out like a sore thumb. Nolan, as a director, is known for getting brilliant performances out of his actors, from the leads to the supporting players, so Hathaway is the weak link in The Dark Knight Rises.
The real revelation is Tom Hardy as Bane. The towering Brit has made a name for himself in films like Bronson and Christopher Nolan's Inception, but here, he's all muscle and intensity. He stalks through the film, a terrifying figure, giving Batman a run for his money (all of it, considering that Bruce Wayne is a billionaire) in a plot that sees the villain upending the socio-political structure of Gotham City.
The Dark Knight Rises is a film that ratchets up the intensity over its near-three-hour running time, an epic in every sense of the word.
Knowing that Christopher Nolan's tenure as stalwart of the Batman saga is over is the true tragedy. It's rare that a genuine auteur is given the complete creative control over a franchise and character as beloved as Batman. With the journey now over, it'll be tough to fill the void left by Warner Brothers and Christopher Nolan.