Available on DVD and Blu-Ray today, The Dark Knight Rises has received mostly positive reviews since its theatrical release this summer. What do I think of Christopher Nolan's final Batman film? Hit the jump to check out my review.

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 2 hr. 44 min.
Release Date: July 20th, 2012 (Theatrical); December 4th, 2012 (Blu-Ray)

It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.

After winning fans over with 2005's Batman Begins and smashing box office records with 2008's The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan returns for the final chapter of his cinematic Batman story, The Dark Knight Rises. Ever since Dark Knight was released to rave reviews, anticipation was through the roof. TDKR was easily one of the most anticipated films of 2012, up there with The Avengers, The Hunger Games, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. With Nolan crafting the best comic book movie up until Avengers came out, "the epic conclusion to the Dark Knight Legend" was expected by many to surpass its predecessor. However, when it was released this summer, The Dark Knight Rises wasn't as well received as expected. While critically acclaimed (though not quite as much as The Dark Knight), TDKR left fans a little more divided, with many criticizing its long running time and differences from the source material (among other things). Nevertheless, it surpassed TDK at the box office, becoming the second highest grossing CBM to date.

I'll admit, Nolan's Batman series is rather special to me. Not only did it make me a hardcore fan of the Caped Crusader, but it (along with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series and the first Iron Man) also made me a passionate fan of the comic book movie genre in general. So clearly, I have been anticipating The Dark Knight Rises greatly, to say the least. And what exactly did I think of it? I absolutely loved it.

As I said before, many have criticized TDKR for having a very long story/running time. For a film this big and a storyline this deep, a long running time is a must to properly tell this tale. I'll admit that some scenes are rather slow and not as attention-grabbing as others, but rarely does a scene feel out of place or unnecessary. The final half hour is particularly engaging, and is packed with spectacular action sequences.

Speaking of the action, one major improvement in Chris Nolan's directing here is his action scenes. Many of the fighting scenes in Batman Begins were rather poorly shot, and while improved, the action scenes in The Dark Knight were a bit hit and miss (particularly the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker). In The Dark Knight Rises, however, Nolan definitely knows how to properly shoot a fight scene. From Batman and Bane's brutal first confrontation to the climatic battle between Gotham's police officers and Bane's army, every scene is shot wonderfully. Other than the occasional fight choreography being imperfect, Nolan has perfected filming an action movie. Wally Pfister's cinematography couldn't be better, giving the film a distinct epic feel to it. Hans Zimmer's score is remarkable, and is also epic. An Oscar win is a must.

As expected, the acting here is top notch. Christian Bale has previously done a fantastic job playing Bruce Wayne/Batman in the past, offering a believable human take on the legendary character. In TDKR, he gives his greatest and most emotional performance as the Caped Crusader yet. While it has rarely bothered me in the past, Bale's gritty Bat-voice isn't really perfected here. In fact, there's one scene in particular where he gets carried away, and it's actually pretty amusing. But otherwise, Bale is hands down the best Batman on film that we've had to date. Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman each give wonderful performances as their respective characters. Caine's Alfred is a particular joy to watch, and some scenes with the butler are incredibly moving. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the finest young actors of the past couple years, and he's excellent as cop John Blake, giving perhaps his best performance yet. His final scene is particularly (somewhat) surprising. Marion Cotillard's "Miranda Tate" is a decent character, although the twist regarding her true identity was arguably one of the worst kept secrets regarding the film.

Now for the cast additions that everybody has been looking forward to: Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle and Tom Hardy's Bane. I approved of the idea of Hathaway playing Catwoman for sometime before she was cast in TDKR, so I was very excited to see her take on the femme fatale. Despite fans' complaints that she wasn't the right choice for the role, she was absolutely terrific as Ms. Kyle. Hathaway's take on Catwoman is smart, sexy, and is probably the best film version of the character yet (yes, even better than Michelle Pfieffer).

The film's main villain, Bane, is played perfectly by Tom Hardy. Ever since I saw him in Warrior, I knew that Hardy would be brutal as the man who broke Batman's back. And he most definitely was. Hardy does an amazing job portraying Bane, even with a mask covering most of his face. Bane is personally my favorite Batman villain, and even though TDKR's take on the character is quite different from the comic book version, the film depicts his personality spot-on. His voice has also caused much controversy since the film's opening sequence was leaked last year, due to being muffled and not understandable to many. Other than a handful of scenes, I understood him just fine.

Now, let's get into some of the film's flaws. (I hate to admit that the movie has flaws, but is there such a thing as a flawless film?) A common statement about TDKR is that it isn't quite the masterpiece that The Dark Knight was. I can see why many think so. TDKR has an excellent story that properly concludes the trilogy, but I can't say it's as unpredictable/unexpected as TDK. Also, Bruce's relationship with "Miranda" was rather rushed. They've only met a handful of times, and suddenly they're a couple? Additionally (I'll be getting into some spoiler territory here, so if you haven't seen the film, you can skip the rest of this paragraph), the deaths of two key characters weren't properly handled. The death of one was abrupt and somewhat anti-climatic, which was surprising for such an important character. And the other death was rather laughable, in all honesty.

This isn't really a flaw in the film's story, but the biggest problem I've had with TDKR personally is that it doesn't focus as much on Batman as you would expect in a Batman film. It works perfectly as a Bruce Wayne story, in addition to the first two movies, but those who were looking forward to seeing Wayne donning the cowl for most of the film are bound to be disappointed. As I said, this doesn't affect the story negatively, but the fanboy in me always wants as much Batman screen time as possible, and I wish TDKR had more than it did. The film has a handful of other flaws, but mostly just nitpicks.

Now for the two big questions. With two genre-changing comic book movies released this year, comparisons and debates were inevitable. So, which is better: Marvel's The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises? All I gotta say is that it's like comparing apples and oranges. The two films are entirely different in almost every aspect, so comparing them would be almost pointless. It depends on what approach you prefer to see in a CBM. For me personally, I have to go with Marvel Studios for this round. TDKR is a brilliant film, but is it as groundbreaking as Avengers? Not quite. And the other question: Does TDKR surpass The Dark Knight? Again, I believe that it depends on preference. TDKR is on a more epic scale, and features a more physical villain for Batman. However, TDK's story is definitely less predictable, and many agree that Heath Ledger's Joker is a far more memorable villain than Bane. Overall, however, I have to go with TDKR. I felt more engaged on an emotional level, and there are plenty of other improvements from the first two movies (better action scenes, better acting, etc.). Although I can definitely see why some would prefer The Dark Knight.

When all is said and done, The Dark Knight Rises is an extraordinary film. It serves as a proper conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman saga, and the director successfully brings things full circle back to Batman Begins. Epic, thrilling and filled with sheer emotion, this is a movie that you do not want to miss. While not perfect (again, what film is truly perfect?), The Dark Knight Rises avoids the "third movie curse" which has plagued other popular film franchises, and is easily one of the best comic book movies to date. Here's hoping that the film receives some sort of recognition at the Oscars come February. And finally, thank you Mr. Nolan for giving us the greatest CBM trilogy so far. The director of the next Batman film definitely has some enormous shoes to fill.

Click HERE to pre-order your copy of The Dark Knight Rises.

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