I believe that "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight," and finally, "The Dark Knight Rises" ought to belong to the canon of films that deal with the age-old subject of good and evil in depth and with intelligence.
Bane and Batman go head-to-head
Nolan (at least with his Batman films) always throws in a character with all the trappings and demeanor of a seedy criminal who then surprisingly makes a selfless sacrifice. Or vice versa - he throws in a character we want to trust and has that winning smile, but becomes twisted and then serves up the most breathtaking of betrayals. I don't think this is intended to deconstruct the idea of good and evil. Rather, I think the artists behind the films want us to more deeply explore what it means to be heroic, especially in a world where the right thing to do is not always clear, appreciated, or easy. In some ways, as dark as they are, I think this makes Nolan's Batman films more relatable than many "comic book movies," because Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is so human, the villians are so human, and the plots are so human.
Batman experts out there - please jump in and correct me if I am wrong - but I think it goes without saying that the city of Gotham has always represented us. And by "us" I mean humans trying to succeed at civilization while at the same time harboring a volatile dark side. Gotham is every city. Gotham is everyone's home. Gotham is every heart.
The fantastic Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake
In Nolan's Batman films, it's not as though Batman "wins" and then we all go home laughing and smiling as we did after watching "The Avengers" (don't get me wrong - "The Avengers" was superb, just different.) Instead, I think the films seek to restore our faith in humanity. I think they encourage us to believe that we can (though eventually and with great difficulty) arrive at - and live out - the distinction between freedom and anarchy, order and oppression, enforcement and violence.
On a side note, I think it is interesting that the story of Batman contains a contradiction that, in itself, raises a very important question. Arkham Asylum - home to psychopathic criminals in the Batman universe - represents anarchy, and so many of the villains Batman goes up against wield chaos as a weapon of mass destruction. However, Batman himself is a vigilante - an individual who by definition has taken matters into his own hands, and has disregarded the law and due process to restore order and peace to the populace. Ironic, is it not? It's almost as if the story of Batman urges us to be aware - to be watchful for the time when enough is enough, the time when the bullies have gotten the upper hand and even the "good guys" aren't doing anything about it.
I suppose you've gathered by now that I approved of "The Dark Knight Rises." As of right now, I have to say it is my favorite of the three films. The onscreen presence of Tom Hardy's Bane is both mesmerizing and unspeakably creepy, since he speaks with a flowery, articulate tone that is at odds with his mountainous figure and industrial-looking garb. Anne Hathaway, who I don't have any particular fondness for, surprised me with the smartest, most interesting Catwoman anyone could ask for. I don't know much about the comic book character, but at least on the surface, the idea of Catwoman is so tired and perpetually over-sexualized. Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises," on the other hand, is a quick-thinking, independent, unapologetic young lady who amusingly uses men's stereotypes about the female gender against them. She is the comic relief without being made a joke of herself - which is rare for a character in this genre in that kind of costume.
Of course, all kinds of praise is due Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and all the rest of the genius cast in this film. There just isn't room here for me to say what has already been said about them a hundred times over, so I'll spare you at least some of my gushing.
Overall - my only complaints regarding "The Dark Knight Rises" would be that the pace lags just a teeny bit somewhere in the middle (and this is made more obvious by the fact that most of the movie is very intense and exciting), and some of the science is a little less than believable. However, true to form, it is, after all, a comic book movie, and the impossible happens in wonderful comics every week, so no harm done, I wager. :)
In case the geek parental units out there want to know, it is clear that in order to retain the PG-13 rating, there was hardly any blood or gore in the movie, and though there is a lot of neck-snapping, it is rarely shown onscreen. I would even go as far as to say that this film was not even as dark as "The Dark Knight," and I would take my teenager to see it if they could handle a lot of shooting and mature themes such as betrayal and implied violence.
Have you seen "The Dark Knight Rises" yet? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!