Wow. I really enjoyed ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ as another epic story from Chris Nolan. It has great action sequences, a tortured main character, interesting back story, a villain with layers we don’t begin to understand until near the end of the film, two love interests, Anne Hathaway in a skin tight leather jumpsuit (did I just say that?) and the cinematic vision of one of the very best directors currently working in Hollywood. Even better, no daft 3D.

Set eight years after ‘The Dark Knight’, Gotham City has become a relatively benign place where criminals and gangs are locked up because of the “Harvey Dent Act”. But as anyone who watched the previous film or read the books knows, Dent wasn’t exactly the savior of Gotham and it’s quite possible that Batman wasn’t the criminal that the city seems to believe. In the interim years, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has mourned the death of his love Rachel and become a complete recluse, to the point where Wayne Enterprises has had to stop its philanthropic work for lack of funds.

The city languishes while evil mastermind Bane (Tom Hardy, behind a mask) builds a subterranean empire and plots to bring down Gotham and its rich citizens. In an obvious parable for the have/have-not of democracy versus the mob-rule anarchy of the “Occupy” movement, Bane stirs up the criminal and poor residents of the city, convincing them that they deserve all the trappings of wealth, not the corrupt wealthy elite. But his plan is far more nefarious than that, and it’s clear that they’re just tools on his path to vengeance on the city.

At almost three hours running time, I was worried it’d feel long but the film went quickly and was beautifully paced, with periods where Bruce explores his own ambiguous feelings about sacrificing himself for the city he loves but that has turned its back on him, his complex relationship with manservant Alfred (Michael Caine, superb as always), the tension between him and the poverty-stricken Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway in her best performance to date), and his surprise intimate relationship with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). There’s a lot going on, and throughout, Bane pushes forward with his plot, trapping Gotham and ingeniously creating a situation where the US Army end up ensuring that the citizens caught up in the anarchy cannot evacuate.

There are some story problems, notably including an amorphous nuclear decay time that ends up being conveniently measured by an ultra-precise countdown timer, and without spoiling anything, I really wish the film would have ended about three minutes prior to the closing titles. Like the daft last scene in ‘Prometheus‘, the last scenes in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ feel like Nolan succumbing to the adamant requirements of the studio, not staying within his artistic integrity.

Note: If you do want to talk about the last few scenes, please be thoughtful in what you post and don’t spoil the movie for anyone else. Really want to get into the details? No worries, email me instead. Thanks.

I’ll also add that there were a number of times when I had a hard time understanding the dialog, not just that of Bane (a role that wastes splendid actor Tom Hardy) with his complex and confusing headgear – which, as comic book readers know but us viewers aren’t told, actually feeds him drugs so he’s not in agony after becoming a medical guinea pig for superhuman strength and speed enhancements – but also some of what Batman himself says, as the suit seems to drop Wayne’s voice an octave or two and make it painfully rough and incoherent. Nolan was aware this could be a problem but assured us months ago it wouldn’t be an issue in the final print. Unfortunately, it is.

I really liked ‘Batman Begins’ and think of it as an almost perfect example of the mythic heroes journey. ‘The Dark Knight’ was more exhausting and suffered from a number of problems, in my eyes, though they were more than compensated for by the extraordinary performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker. Wrapping up the trilogy, I was curious how things would fit. Nolan did a wonderful job of pulling all the storylines together, in a way that ‘The Dark Knight’ definitely didn’t do. See the previous movies, especially ‘Batman Begins’, before you see this film to refresh yourself on Henri Ducard and Ra’s Al Ghul’s role in Wayne’s transition to The Batman, you’ll see what I mean. Truth be told, I think that ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a far better film than ‘The Dark Knight’, though I’m sure plenty of you will disagree.

However you want to look at the story and character development, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a spectacular film, thrilling, visually astonishing, and simultaneously thoughtful and profound about our responsibilities to our community, the dilemma of a class society and its inevitable unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity and the nature of human relationships. Go see it. If you can get a ticket. It’s going to open big and be one of the top grossing films of 2012. Deservedly so.