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'The Dark Knight Rises' to the occasion

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Nolan's brilliant Batman trilogy concludes

Some filmmakers know how to do a trilogy. Some don't. Peter Jackson does. The Wachowskis do not. Steven Spielberg does (crystal skulls be damned). George Lucas did, but then he didn't.

Christopher Nolan definitely does.

After four long years, 'The Dark Knight Rises' has arrived. If you're like me, you've been anxiously awaiting this film since you walked out of the theater following a screening of 2008's 'The Dark Knight.' Nolan along with brother Jonathan and screenwriter David S. Goyer had slowly, steadily constructed a fully-realized comic book world. But this is not the brightly-colored bang-bang of Marvel's 'Avengers' assembly.

This is the dimly-lit world of the Batman, a world where shades of gray are all there is. No absolutes of good or evil; Nolan's Gotham is a world without black and white.

'The Dark Knight Rises' begins eight years after the events of 'The Dark Knight.' Gotham is in the midst of a renaissance. Organized crime is a thing of the past, thanks to the Dent Act named for Harvey Dent/Two-Face, whose heinous crimes were covered up by Batman (Christian Bale, 'The Fighter') and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'). Dent has become a martyr to the cause of cleaning up the streets.

Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, rarely leaving the east wing of Wayne Manor. However, after an encounter with the talented cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, 'One Day'), Wayne decides to get back into the game and return the Batman to prominence. Unfortunately, a mysterious masked mercenary by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy, 'Warrior') is making his way to Gotham. His only goal is the destruction of the city and by extension, Batman.

That's not a lot of plot, but it's all you're getting. Going any farther could potentially result in spoilers and I refuse to be that guy.

The performances are outstanding. Bale does a phenomenal job of portraying the sort of broken man that would become Batman in the first place; I can even forgive the oft-hated growly 'Batman voice.' There's a lot of truth in what he brings to the screen key to the success of this sort of thinking man's action film. Oldman is great, as are the holdovers from the previous films Michael Caine ('Inception') as Alfred and Morgan Freeman ('Red') as Lucius Fox.

Tom Hardy, meanwhile, has an almost impossible job. Not only does he have to follow Heath Ledger's transcendent villainy from the previous film, but he has to do so in a mask that covers almost his entire face. Yet somehow, he manages to convey Bane's unique combination of brawn and brilliance. It's not the Joker, but it's closer than you think.

Hathaway is probably the weak link, but she's better than most of us might have expected. And without spoilers, note must be made of the fantastic performances from Joseph Gordon-Leavitt ('50/50') as police officer John Blake and Marion Cotillard ('Midnight in Paris') as philanthropist Miranda Tate; both actors have worked with Nolan before and he made a great choice bringing them into the fold.

Let's be frank: 'The Dark Knight Rises' isn't 'Return of the King,' but it's not 'Return of the Jedi' either. It is an exceptional film that suffers only from the immeasurable (and in retrospect unreachable) expectations that were laid upon it. We the public expected it to be all things to all of us.

But that's not how Christopher Nolan works. He made the film that he wanted to make, not the one the studio wanted him to make and certainly not the one that the audience felt that he owed them. Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, we can be honest with ourselves was there any chance that this film was going to live up to the brilliance of its predecessor?

'The Dark Knight' was in many ways the seminal superhero film; its darkness was brought to life by masterful storytelling and anchored by a once-in-a-lifetime performance from Heath Ledger made all the more powerful in our collective consciousness by Ledger's untimely death.

'The Dark Knight Rises' isn't a perfect film; it's overlong and there are a few inconsistencies and minor irritants. However, it remains an outstanding film and in one very important way, it is perfect.

It's the perfect ending.

5 out of 5

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