But The Dark Knight Rises is an epic Batman story that brings all the threads from the entire trilogy.
Set years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce is recluse and Gotham is safe, but sanitized. The infection of crime has not gone away; it only bubbles under the surface waiting to explode like a volcano. Enter Bane: a masked terrorist booted from the League of Shadows. He is Batman's equal in every way but outpaces him in sheer brutality.
This movie does have its detractors and it is not without its flaws. The plot is a bit too busy. Director Christopher Nolan tries to shoehorn every story element he can into his final bow into the Bat-verse. The story also strains some suspension of disbelief. If this movie had come out after Batman Begins, it would be more palatable. But because of the gritty, realistic grounding of The Dark Knight, uber-Science Fiction turn feels a bit jarring. The movie also makes criminal underused of Michael Caine as Alfred, who is almost entirely absent in the second act.
But there is so much that this movie does incredibly well.
The top of the list is Tom Hardy as Bane. The character design for him is stunning and terrifying. And Hardy does an amazing job especially because he cannot use much of his facial expressions. He must convey the character almost entirely in body language and it is excellent. Note the scene where he gently lays his hand on the man in the suit and the surge of menace that enters into the scene because of it. Many people criticized the voice, but it was iconic and effective. Bane is doing what Bruce is doing: making himself more than a man and into a symbol to behold.
The rest of the cast and crew does an excellent job as well. Christian Bale brings a weary grace to Bruce. Anne Hathaway is a welcome addition to the cast as Selina Kyle. She brings charm and charisma in a way that Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhal did not.
Nolan brings all of his artistic flair to this film. The opening sequence is still as thrilling as it was when I first saw it years ago. He also does something very interesting: he brings Batman into the light of day without him looking ridiculous. The final sequence brings The Dark Knight into the light where he does not appear out of place, but like the iconic general of a righteous army.
Another interesting thing that Nolan does is that he makes a political movie without politics. There is clearly a commentary on the political/social divide in this film. The rich are decadent and uncaring, but the uprising poor are mob-like and violent. Nolan wisely steers far away from any overt real-world political references that you find in movies like Avatar or TV shows like Supergirl. Instead, he is trying to say something bigger than present-day politics. He is making a comment on human nature and the constant battle between order, anarchy, tyranny, and just order. Because of this, The Dark Knight Rises will not feel stuck in the zeitgeist of the past.
But ultimately this is the story about how to rise when you fall. With so many movies about Batman, it is a real challenge to come up with something new and interesting to say. But this film strips away every advantage Batman has. Bruce was already born on third base; his life was filled with so many advantages in helping him be Batman: extraordinary physique, incredibly fortune, loyal companions and the like. The Dark Knight Rises asks the question: what if you rob him of all of that? When all is said and done, who is Bruce Wayne?
And while the comparisons are not perfect, the Christological themes are without a doubt present. Bruce must take up his cross and serve the people who turned against him. My favorite line in the movie is when Selina asks Bruce to abandon the people of Gotham and escape. She tells him that he owes them nothing and that he has already given them everything. His only response is: "Not everything. Not yet."
And that is what The Dark Knight Rises is all about. It isn't that Bruce rises from brokenness to wholeness.
Instead because of what he does for the city, Batman has risen from a man to a legend.