From the first few moments of "Batman Begins", it was very clear that writer/director Christopher Nolan was setting up his vision of the caped crusader to become a spectacular odyssey that would completely change how the world looks at super heroes. "The Dark Knight" expanded on that overall theme while showing how evil and chaos could bring ruin to what was thought to be a city's greatest hope. To complete the trilogy properly, Nolan would need to bring the hero back from the depths while showing him what it means to truly become a legend.
The movie picks up several years after the end of "The Dark Knight" and we see that both Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman (Christian Bale) have become reclusive and unseen shadows while the city of Gotham is enjoying the finest stretch of peace and prosperity it has seen in decades. Batman's reputation is in ruin as he and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) hold on to the lie they created to protect the heroic image of former district attorney Harvey Dent who was turned in to the villainous Two Face by the one and only Joker.
Bruce himself is beaten down both mentally and physically by the losses he has suffered and it takes the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy) and his plan to destroy Gotham to get the caped crusader back in the game. Even with this new and powerful threat at the forefront, there may also be hidden dangers lurking in the shadows and the added threat of the mysterious Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) only complicates things further.
That's as far as I'm going to go in to the story, otherwise this review will not be able to stay as spoiler free as I would like to keep it. The thing that immediately stands out about this movie are the stellar performances by each and every actor which has been a well established hallmark of the series' previous installments. When it was first announced that Anne Hathaway would be playing Catwoman there was an immediate negative response from the general fan base, but after seeing her take on the character, I wouldn't want to see anyone else in her place.
Both Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine continue their brilliant work as Lucius and Alfred who are mainly responsible for keeping Bruce on the right path and, more often than not, giving him a proverbial kick in the ass when he most needs it. The addition of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard as key characters also works out very well as they end up being vital to how the story plays out. For the character of Bane, I don't think there could have been a better choice than Tom Hardy. The physicality and presence that he brought to the role gave him that supernatural quality and intimidation factor needed to convince the audience that he can and will defeat everyone in his path.
I suppose with any movie that has the complexity and depth that this one does, it would be a tall order to come up with an ending that is truly satisfying on several different levels. Where "The Dark Knight Rises" succeeds is in being a truly epic scale super hero movie with some of the most spectacular visuals you will ever see on a movie screen. This is even more impressive given Nolan's insistence on keeping all three of the movies grounded in a real world sensibility that skews away from the use of CGI in favor of practical effects whenever possible.
Visually, this is a stunning masterpiece that has your jaw on the floor within the first couple minutes and keeps it going all the way to the end. You never feel like the movie slows down as the action is pretty much non stop from start to finish. There were a few areas I felt the movie had some serious flaws, but its hard to get in to them without revealing story details so we won't be going there. What I will say is that what could have been a hugely emotional final act almost felt rushed at times and even fell in to a few moments of action movie cliché which really seemed out of place within the world that Nolan had created.
There's so much more I want to say both good and bad, but I will leave that to the various conversations I will be having with everyone after we have all had a chance to see it. Overall, this is a truly great piece of movie making magic and wraps up the trilogy just about as well as you could expect. With so much hype and expectation I'm sure there will be an across the board response to this final chapter and what I will say now is that it was a very solid effort that is absolutely worth seeing and, if you have the chance, go see it in a true IMAX movie theater.