Go in expecting an epic, and an epic you shall receive. Did we anticipate anything more from Christopher Nolan here, as he ends his most wonderful Batman trilogy? The Dark Knight Rises finishes the story of Nolan's Batman in such a sprawling, ambitious, and often beautiful way, it sometimes seems as though the picture is having a hard time fitting Batman into all the goings on. Make no mistake, this is still an awe-inspiring experience, and a fitting end to a story that has spanned three films. But don't go in expecting the visceral intensity of The Dark Knight, or the discovery of Batman Begins. This is its own movie, with its own responsibility to the franchise, and seen as such it has some great moments. That being said, there are flaws, mostly flaws that could have been fixed with a little nip and tuck.
Staying spoiler free, we pick up on Batman's arch eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, where Batman took the blame for Harvey Dent's killings and went into hiding. In those eight years Gotham City has cleaned up the streets, eliminated organized crime, and is generally in a very good place. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has disappeared form social circles, distraught over the death and destruction left in The Joker's wake. He occupies a far wing of the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor as a recluse, with only his loyal butler and friend, Alfred (Michael Caine) to try and pull him out of this funk. But it won't be long before Gotham needs Batman once again, because there is a terrorist headed to town.
This terrorist is Bane, played here with as much panache as he can by Tom Hardy. Bane, a muscle-bound vigilante with an intricate life-support mask wrapped around his face, is intent on destroying Gotham for reasons which become clear eventually. The plot structure involves a great deal of moving parts, including investment bankers, outside interests like Miranda (Marion Cotillard) whose motives are a bit unclear, and the work of Catwoman/Selina Kyle played by Anne Hathaway. This is an accurate portrayal of the character as she hops from one side to the other, always careful to cover her own ass. Bane's ultimate plan is to turn Gotham into a militarized city under his control and rule. The process of this city under siege is a brilliant bit of tension-filled directing from Nolan. Once Bane enacts his plan, the film really takes off. The only thing is, Bane's capturing of the city is a good hour and a half in.
There is a great deal of time spent with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing the plucky policeman Blake. Blake and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, always reliable and fully involved with the character) try their best to stop Bane only he proves too powerful. This is why Batman is needed. Notice this is the first time I have mentioned Batman, because he is practically an afterthought at times. Bruce Wayne has a great deal of time, only Batman himself feels lacking overall. It's a shame, because Bale really has the character down at this point. And it isn't that the rest of the cast does a poor job; it is quite the opposite. We spend a great deal of time with Blake and Gordon, and Levitt and Oldman are terrific actors. So it softens the blow that we are missing some Bat-action along the way.
The Dark Knight Rises is not a perfect film; the problem is there was no other option for it than to be perfect. So falling short of impossible expectations is its cross to bear. I enjoyed it still, and I appreciate the scope Nolan and Co. are reaching for. They don't quite get there, and this could have been achieved by scaling back some scenes along the way. Occasionally there is bloat, length that feels unneeded. It could have withstood about ten to twelve minutes cut from the final print. But I will not fault Nolan for trying this film on a grand scale, because this is a trilogy which deserves grandness. There are aspects and twists and moments aplenty here, so much so that I could write pages and pages on this film. That has to mean something in the end.