How can you meet the expectations when following a movie as great as 'The Dark Knight'? Seems like an impossible task, but director Christopher Nolan is more than willing to undertake the challenge in order to bring you 'The Dark Knight Rises'.
Judging by the movie, if there was a person who could pull this off, Nolan was probably him. 'The Dark Knight Rises' brings Batman (Christian Bale) to an epic grand finale in which he faces arguably his greatest foe yet: Bane (Tom Hardy). Unlike an enemy like The Joker, whose mission was to spread chaos and anarchy; Bane is a man with a very meticulous agenda. He has an army of followers that resemble a twisted version of the Occupy movement and that he uses to violently rise into power like a revolutionary leader. He is pretty much the comic-book equivalent to a Joseph Stalin.
Along for the fight against this evil, besides Batman, are old friends like loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine), tech-guy Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and many new faces like idealistic police officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), millionaire investor Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and mysterious cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, who balances the fun and camp of her performance to fit this universe and become the stand-out in a film that isn't really centered around her).
If 'The Dark Knight' was a crime movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises' is a war epic. Nolan goes beyond the previous films in scope, turning Gotham into a battleground where the ultimate battle for Gotham against Bane's army will be fought. Like he did for previous films, he finds inspiration in recent political events: 'The Dark Knight' took a look at the moral shades of the war on terror and 'The Dark Knight Rises' now takes a stand against the recent 1% problem, arguing how it could foster the growth of an evil as big as Bane's.
Batman, in his battle against Bane, sinks into the lowest of low-points and must fight as hard as he can to rise and emerge triumphant. That struggle is the most effective part of a very entertaining film that takes the themes and the story of the previous installments and brings a satisfying conclusion to what feels like a cohesive trilogy.
That being said, if there is a weak-point to the trilogy it's probably 'The Dark Knight Rises'. There are so many things Nolan wants to say and so many characters he has to follow, that even being 165 minutes long, the film can't find enough time all that must be said. As a result, the movie seems intensely rushed and rarely are we given enough time to linger on an effective emotional beat. Just as I was letting myself go to the intense feelings, the movie moved into something else. It is a pity, because as I said before, the best parts of the movie come when they focus on Bruce Wayne's internal struggle and his ultimate test of will towards the end of the film.
Where the lack of time really hurts the movie, is in its plotting. We never really get to grasp what Bane's big plan really is about. He talks about giving Gotham back to the people, but then he wants to kill everyone. He says Gotham must be destroyed, but we never really know why. Things are good now in Gotham, there's no crime left, then why does it have to be destroyed? The motivations of Rha's Al Gul and The Joker in the previous movies where far better expressed.
Also, the nature of Bane's plan and his stand-in as a dictatorial figure raise the stakes to such an immense height that as the movie goes along it becomes more impossible to resolve them in a perfect way. 'The Dark Knight' was an almost perfect movie in this regard, tightly edited and plotted as to resolve all the threads and bring round the themes of the movie. 'The Dark Knight Rises' aims so high that it can't quite close the circle as neatly and flawlessly as the previous movie did.