"Awesome," said the fanboy. "Amazing", said the fanboy's non-fan girlfriend as the credits rolled on The Dark Knight Rises (Warner Bros.), the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Starting with Batman Begins (2005) and continuing with The Dark Knight (2008), these three films are definitely the most realistic, darkest cinematic take on the mythology of Batman. And for their troubles, they are also most popular. The reasons for this are clear from the outset, even for the uninitiated.
A lifelong fan who expects a faithful adaptation of the Knightfall storyline, which introduced Bane and turned him loose on Batman and Gotham City in 1993, might be disappointed. But this disappointment quickly turns to joy in the artistic license of Nolan's vision. The audience can sit back and bask in the despair and terror created by Bane and the League of Shadows (his henchmen). In Bane's words, despair can only be truly understood in the presence of hope. This is also a description of the Gotham City that Nolan's evil villain ultimately creates.
A sublime cast, led by Christian Bale as Batman, give very restrained, understated performances, but that is exactly what was needed. The brilliant triumvirate of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman return in their roles as Alfred Pennyworth, Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon, respectively. They are joined by Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, and Tom Hardy as Bane.
The mystery of Bane's origins and his connection with earlier Batman villain Ra's al Ghul, played by Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, creates the backstory of the film. The near future technology and cool toys that Bruce Wayne/Batman has at his disposal, owing to his status as a billionaire, are an integral part of this world, as well as Nolan's realization of urban/domestic terrorism/warfare that is presented in this trilogy of Batman films. A realistic, though dystopian, vision progresses through the trilogy and ultimately devolves into the horrible pseudo-reality of urban warfare and terrorism perpetrated by Bane.
Batman's appeal contains an aspect not possessed by other superheroes, like Superman and Spiderman. Batman is in no way perfect. He has a dark side (which may explain the immense popularity of the series), complete with an ego and ideas of revenge. Batman is simply a normal human, albeit super rich, physically fit and highly trained, but not some creature from Krypton or endowed with special abilities after the bite of a radioactive spider. It is, in some perverse way, completely believable with only a sprinkling of imagination. This allows us normal people to imagine that, in slightly different circumstances, we ourselves could also be such a hero.
While this is a dark film, Batman and his allies continue fighting for Gotham City and allow a glimmer of hope to shine through and carry us to the climactic end. This reviewer strongly recommends this film, even if the other two previous parts have not been seen. And for the real fans of such films, much like 'Lord of the Rings', a night with friends and all three films in succession has the makings of an exquisite event. With or without popcorn.