Of all the adjectives to describe The Dark Knight Rises, ambitious is the most appropriate.

This ambition makes director Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film a spectacular and gripping finale, as well as a convoluted mess.

And what a mess it is, especially through the first two acts.  There are so many characters and subplots that viewers will need a flow chart to
keep their roles and motivations straight.

And while this may lead to a less focused experience than this film’s superior predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises is still an exceptional film.

None of the myriad subplots are inferior; it’s more a case of the screenplay trying to do a bit too much.  And it’s hard to penalize the film for
such ambition.  Especially as much of it is executed with style and intelligence.

Once again, it’s the villain that steals the show.  Tom Hardy is fantastic as Bane, a muzzled madman who uses class warfare to stage a coup
of Gotham City.

Hardy’s performance will inevitably be compared to Heath Ledger’s enthralling turn as Joker in The Dark Knight.  Those may be ridiculous
standards to live up to, but Hardy’s brute physique and unnerving vocal inflections are brilliant.  He has a fantastically menacing presence
and Bane casts an ominous shadow over the entire film.

Nolan has cited that Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities served as inspiration for The Dark Knight Rises.  This proves to be a stroke of
genius, as Bane’s inciting of Gotham’s lower class proves to be a great fit for the series and injects an interesting shot of social relevance
into the story.

It also leads to a wonderful sense of dread when he succeeds.  If you thought Gotham had problems before, wait until it’s ruled over by
Bane from the depths of the city’s sewer system.

While Hardy’s presence is strongest, Anne Hathaway is also surprisingly excellent as ‘cat’ burglar Selina Kyle.

Hathaway has a lot of fun with her role as she manipulates and outfoxes just about everyone she comes in contact with.  Her expression
upon realizing Bruce Wayne is onto her antics is fantastic and her deadpan delivery is exceptional.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt also has a nice supporting role as John Blake, an ambitious Gotham cop and staunch supporting of the Batman.

The returning cast is all very good, with special attention to Michael Caine, who gets to deliver a few moments of genuine emotion as Alfred.

The relationship between Alfred and Wayne has been a highlight of the Batman character in this trilogy, and Alfred’s concern and insight
into the psyche of his surrogate son is genuinely touching.

These moments are invaluable for a film that is filled with action and moves with the frantic pace of a great thriller.

Even at a whopping 164 minutes, The Dark Knight Rises never drags.

Intercut with the chaos in Gotham is a sequence where Wayne, having been defeated by Bane, must escape from a sunken prison in the
Middle East.  This is a fantastic sequence, and one that finally begins to build on the Batman character after so much of the film has focused
on just about everything else.

It launches us into the film’s final act, which features an incredible battle that turns Gotham City into a warzone.

Nolan masterfully juggles and brings together all the threads here.  And it’s astounding how well the massive cast of characters is utilized.

It leads to an incredibly satisfying finale that wraps up the story, as well as the trilogy in exhilarating fashion.

I must admit, however, that one of the film’s very last reveals (Involving Alfred on holiday) is perhaps a bit too obvious. A more subtle touch
would have left us on a more mysterious and memorable note.

And I haven’t even mentioned Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate character or Wayne Enterprises’ energy device-turned-nuke.  Then there is
the nuclear scientist and the treacherous Wayne board members, not to mention Commissioner Gordon wrestling with the fallout from
Harvey Dent’s demise.

There is just way too much going on and in the hands of a lesser director this entire endeavor would have imploded.  But despite all the
confusion, it still works and even excels.

One obvious weak spot (once again) is Hans Zimmer’s score.  The populist film composer pounds away at our eardrums with thumps, bumps
and every manner of noise he can conjure, and is satisfied far too often with quoting material from the previous films with little to no
thematic development.  This is a lazy score for a film that is anything but.

Fortunately, these complaints pale in comparison to the extraordinary achievement that is this film.

The Dark Knight Rises is a superb action thriller and a monumentally satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy.  Despite a few missteps, this is
filmmaking on a grand scale, executed with a level of intelligence rarely seen in franchise films.

Nolan’s accomplishment with this trilogy cannot be underestimated and its conclusion is potent, spectacular and relentlessly thrilling.

* * * ½
(out of four)
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

Starring: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy,
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Cinematography by: Wally Pfister

Released: July 20, 2012; 164 Minutes