Tulsa, Okla. - Search your memory and try to think of a movie trilogy where the third installment was any good.
I can count them on one hand.
Now try to think of any third installments to a movie trilogy that were GREAT.
I can't remember ANY.
But now there is one.
I collected comics as a kid, and Batman was far and away my favorite character, so while I'm always glad to see a Batman film, I'm also difficult to please.
So I'm glad to say I think The Dark Knight Rises, the finale to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, is a truly great film.
The rumor after Nolan's second installment in the franchise, the critically acclaimed box-office blockbuster The Dark Knight, was that he was reluctant to do a third film.
And in fact, The Dark Knight didn't leave any glaring loose ends to be tied up, so although fans would have been mightily disappointed, Nolan could have let sleeping bats lie.
That's why it's all the more impressive that he manages to logically build upon not just the events in
The Dark Knight but also to a large extent, unexpectedly perhaps, on events from the first part of the trilogy, 2005's Batman Begins.
I don't want to give away too many spoilers to say exactly how he does this, but if it's been awhile since you've seen the first two films (or if you've NEVER seen them), you will definitely want to watch those before TDKR to refresh your memory, because the plot in The Dark Knight Rises is (in typical Nolan fashion) a very intricate construction with scenes and plotlines that at first seem unnecessary, until it all finally meshes at the end, and it hits you with sudden clarity why Nolan did what he did.
The Dark Knight Rises didn't make my brain hurt as much as the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream plot of Nolan's 2010 film Inception, but it has plenty of twists and turns and will likely surprise you at least once or twice along the way.
TDKR is set 8 years after the events in The Dark Knight.
The Batman, having taken the blame for the death of Harvey Dent AKA Two Face, hasn't been seen since.
His alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, who pretended to be the swaggering, womanizing, publicity-hound, is now a despondent, shaggy-haired, unshaven recluse, retreating from public view inside the now-rebuilt Wayne Manor.
Christian Bale is great as Wayne and probably doesn't get enough credit for a job that is probably tougher than it looks, segueing from the pretend "cavalier Wayne" to the serious "save-the-world" Wayne and back again, sometimes in the same scene.
His loyal butler Alfred, once again played by Michael Caine in yet another terrific performance, tries to chide him, as only Alfred can do, to find a life after Batman, but it's clear that Bruce has lost his motivation and purpose in life.
That is, until a new villain emerges.
Bane is well-known to fans and readers of the Batman comic books, as one of the Dark Knight's most fearsome enemies, matching him intellectually and surpassing him physically, but is not nearly as well known to fans outside the comic book world as say, the Joker.
Fans of the comics will be relieved to know that Nolan rightfully portrays Bane much closer to his comic-book roots than the growling, brain-dead version in the 1997 Joel Schumacher-directed debacle Batman and Robin.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane is just as cunning and cerebral with his plans as he in the comics and just as brutal and unmerciful in carrying them out.
This would be a good time to point out that parents need to take the PG-13 rating in TDKR seriously.
This is an intense film that, compared to many modern-day action movies, contains very little blood or gore but thematically is actually much more unsettling with very dark portrayals of real-world concerns like terrorism and violence.
There is some moments of much-needed lightness and even romance in the movie provided by a cat burglar named Selina Kyle, who comic-fans will instantly recognize as the alter ego of Catwoman, although Nolan never refers to her as such in the film, because he likely felt it was too campy.
Just like the comics, The Dark Knight Rises version of Selina, played by Anne Hathaway, is a "frenemy" to Batman, sometimes helping him, but in some cases, causing him some major problems.
Hathaway is entirely convincing in the action scenes and, ahem, looks great in the cat suit.
Actor Tom Hardy turns in a great performance as Bane and does a remarkable job of conveying Bane's emotions and sometimes subtle menace, considering that his face is almost completely covered by a facemask.
Granted, the razor-sharp fangs in the mask are much more helpful with the more explosive menace that Bane also exhibits frequently.
Hardy reportedly bulked up with 30 pounds of added muscle with an intense workout regimen and mixed martial-arts training. He's not nearly as big as say, Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, but somehow he seems ten times scarier.
The dread is palpable as Nolan masterfully builds the suspense leading up toward the first confrontation between Batman and Bane.
Nolan has apparently taking some of the criticism of his camera-work during fight scenes to heart, because the battle between Bane and Batman has to be one of the most memorably brutal fights ever portrayed in movies.
Don't be surprised if you find yourself wincing involuntarily a couple of times during it. Nolan somehow manages to make it disturbingly realistic and larger-than-life at the same time.
Speaking of larger-than-life, do yourself a favor and see the film at an IMAX theater. Nolan shot 72 minutes of TDKR on 70-millimeter IMAX cameras, and the effect really is mind-boggling.
The aerial shots looking straight down at the Gotham cityscape are truly awesome. You'll have to turn your head to scan the giant screen from one side to the other and back again to really take it all in. But you might be surprised to see that Nolan also works the IMAX shots into quieter, simple dialogue scenes.
The plot, which essentially revolves around Bane's plan to take over Gotham, sounds cliché, but trust me when I say it's not, and the way that he goes about it will likely strike you as completely plausible and frighteningly possible, which isn't surprising given Nolan's insistence and uncanny ability to make even a movie about a man who dresses up like a bat as realistic as possible.
Saying much more about the plot would ruin the wonderful way that Nolan has crafted it, but the ending is about as emotionally satisfying and fitting as any longtime Bat-fan like myself could want.
And in true Nolan fashion, it leaves open more than one possible interpretation, but is never so vague as to be too maddening.
If not for Heath Ledger's masterful performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises would rise to the top of the heap.
As it is, it probably ranks a very close second the second installment, but because it ties up some of the loose ends that you might not have realized were loose from Batman Begins, it also serves to enhance the first film in many ways.
It will likely be impossible for you not to think of the victims from the senseless act of violence and cruelty in Colorado as you're watching this film. It will likely make the already jarring depiction of violence in the film more difficult to watch. As you sit in your seat, you realize how entirely helpless you would feel if somebody suddenly started shooting. And you will almost undoubtedly feel an even more profound sense of sympathy for the people in that Colorado theater, because as you sit in your seat, you realize more clearly than ever that they were just like you, just everyday folks hoping to have a fun night at the movies to see one of their childhood heroes.