On to the feature: The Dark Knight Rises started out with an action scene which almost had me rolling my eyes. I was a little concerned that there would be copious amounts of unrealistic action, but other than Hines Ward returning a kickoff for a touchdown in a later scene, it wasn't too bad the rest of the way. I mean, seriously, I don't think I've ever seen Ward return a kick. But at least they used a professional football player rather than an actor.
As you may already know, Bane is the villain in this flick, and since a hero is only as good as the villain, I was pleased to see that Christopher Nolan went to great lengths to turn him into a truly frightening sociopath. No longer is he the hulking meat head he was in Batman & Robin (starring George Clooney), he is now intelligent and purposeful. I don't know if it was intentional, but his mask and raspy, labored voice made him somewhat reminiscent of Darth Vader. Feel free to refer to him as Darth Bane if you like. What I found really interesting about Bane and his followers, is that all their speeches and grandstanding sounded exactly like the Occupy Wall Street movement. 'The rich fat cats have been oppressing us for too long', and 'we're going to take back what's rightfully ours' and so on. They continually fan the flames of class warfare to return Gotham city to the violent state it was in prior to Batman cleaning it up in the first film. I'm not familiar with the comics, so I'm not sure if it's faithful to the source material, or if the film makers are trying to make a political statement, or if they are simply trying to be timely, but it was as if they watched news footage of the Occupy movement and added it to the script word for word. Make no mistake, though, Bane was a worthy villain: powerful, ruthless, hateful, and if that weren't enough - kicked out of the League of Shadows for being too sociopathic.
Catwoman is an interesting character as well. She retains the skin tight costumes from previous iterations (which Anne Hathaway looks great in by the way), but we no longer have to put up with any purring or ridiculous one liners. She's a real character, rather than a caricature, and she keeps you guessing until the end whether she will turn into a hero or a villain. Michael Caine, however really stole the show as Alfred. He has a relatively small part in this film, but his scenes are highly emotionally charged and he truly left me in awe. Some of the other emotional scenes border on sappy, but Michael Caine really nails it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also shines as John Blake, a young cop who is unusually perceptive and aids both Commissioner Gordon and Batman. I think we'll see a lot more from him in the future.
I can't say enough about how impressed I am with Christopher Nolan as a film maker. Like the previous two installments, he takes source material that is steeped in fantasy and finds a way to make it realistic. None of the characters have super powers or behave in unbelievable ways. That, to me is what makes villains truly terrifying. Vampires and zombies don't frighten me at all, but a brilliant serial killer like Hannibal Lechter or a violent and charismatic man like Bane who is able to recruit followers to his cause of creating anarchy is plausible enough to make me wary. More importantly, Nolan is a brilliant story teller who is able to weave a tale in such a way that it's difficult to see what is coming without having to resort to crazy plot twists at the end like M Night Shayamalan. The Dark Knight Rises keeps you engaged from beginning to end and at no time does the 2 hours and 45 minutes seem long or drag in any way. I went into the movie with high expectations and it didn't let me down in any way. In my opinion, this surpasses the Dark Knight, but I think I still prefer Batman Begins. This film left me wanting more, unfortunately the only additional material I will ever see is bonus material on the DVD, which I now can't wait to purchase.