There are some trilogies that end perfect (The Return of the King), some that are awful (Matrix Revolution) and some that have their flaws but wrap everything up in a satisfying way without alienating fans (Return of the Jedi). That is where The Dark Knight Rises lands. While The Batman is a cool character with a lot of gadgets, the series has always been about Bruce Wayne…and fittingly that’s the focus of the third installment. Wayne’s crash and burn then eventual rise from the ashes is the real point of the movie. He meets his match (in many ways) in Bane…another masked man who also feels justified in his actions. Bale and the rest do great but it’s Michael Caine who ends up being the heart of it all. His plea to Wayne to stop his downward spiral and find happiness in life along with later scenes carry more punch than most of the big budget action scenes. I really liked how Nolan wrapped things up and brought everything full circle with key elements from the first two films. The movie is long but doesn’t feel like it. Everyone considers “The Empire Strikes Back” the best of the Star Wars trilogy but still love all three. “The Dark Knight” is the Empire of the series…but all three movies succeed. Bravo. — Stormy Curry

When your main villain’s face remains fully three-quarters covered by a device that looks like it’s meant to cure sleep apnea, there’s not a lot of room to act. Is it really Tom Hardy playing Bane? With that metal walrus contraption and a voice that sounds looped by a Sean Connery impersonator, who can tell? Pit Bane against Batman and you get two expressionless actors. At least Hardy has an excuse. But Christian Bale comes off as a self-important drag. Watch Bale in his scene with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, another quiet, serious actor, but one who always pulls you in. G-L eats Bale’s lunch. Yes, Batman the character is dead at the center before he regains hope and purpose, but in scene after scene, it’s the other actors, not Bale, whom you find yourself watching: grand old Michael Caine, the infallible Gary Oldman, and especially Anne Hathaway, who’s almost in a different movie and is pretty much the only one who seems to be having any fun. (Marion Cotillard’s career continues to mystify.) If “bleak” is what Christopher Nolan was going for, the final installment doesn’t come close to his last (with Heath Ledger) or Tim Burton’s first. We wait what must be an hour and a half or so before the Big Effect: the semi-destruction of Manhattan. Nothing in the sequence rises to the evil of the catastrophe (or to anything in INCEPTION, for that matter) — especially since the promised nightmare doesn’t bring down a single tall building. I’m guessing Nolan or Warner Brothers felt that would be too disturbing, even eleven years after 9/11. But it’s a pulled punch in a screenplay that clearly taps into the fear of terrorism. Hans Zimmer’s pounding, forgettable score doesn’t help. And the MacGuffin: a nuclear bomb with a timer that counts down as the movie hurtles to a conclusion. Seriously? There were “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” episodes with better climaxes. — Jeff Schultz

One of the themes of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is fear. Using fear or succumbing to fear. That said, I was fearful of what I would see up on the screen as I prepared to watch THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Would it be as good as The Dark Knight? Or would it go down the Sam Raimi road as in Spider-Man 3 and be a total disaster. My fears were unwarranted. While TDKR is not as good as The Dark Knight, it is still an excellent movie. The final installment of the trilogy returns to themes first seen in Batman Begins. Bane (Tom Hardy) is a disciple of Ra’s Al Ghul and wants to finish what Al Ghul was unable to in the first movie, the “cleansing of Gotham City”. Batman will have none of it, but he also has met his match in Bane. While he was able to pummel all comers into submission using his Ninja skills, Batman has met his match in Bane. And how he overcomes this and saves the day (or does he?) is the arc of this film. Nolan is expert in epic filmmaking. He knows spectacle, but doesn’t forget story as he stuns his audience with visual tricks. I won’t go into how great Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman are. They were great in the first two films and that continues. The new players are what everyone wonders about. Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt each bring important pieces to the puzzle and each character gets his or her moment to shine or get a shiner. One small complaint, it was sometimes hard to hear what Bane was saying through his mask. But that is minor. Yes, this is almost three hours long, but it didn’t drag and didn’t feel that long. And thank you for not converting it to 3D. Not everything has to be 3D to be spectacular. Thank you Christopher Nolan for reminding us of that and for your incredible talent. This version of The Dark Knight rises above much of the rest of the schlock that passes for blockbuster entertainment. This movie will break box office records, and it deserves nothing less.

Alan Yudman

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