Being among the first audiences to watch The Dark Knight Rises after the senseless shooting in Colorado, I am happy to report that the moment the movie started I forgot all about it and was able to just watch and enjoy.

As you might expect for the conclusion of an epic, mythological trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is over-stuffed and not without flaws. References to recent Occupy undercurrents don’t really fit in the plot, too much of the dialogue seems written for the trailer than the movie itself. But it is a grand piece of entertainment nonetheless: all the potential for interesting meta-discussions of Prometheus, none of the bad old-age makeup. The Dark Knight was a more coherent movie as a whole, but Rises is more ambitious, and when it succeeds, it succeeds like crazy.

The first big coup is the movie’s first action sequence, introducing the villain Bane (a beefy Tom Hardy). On IMAX it looked flawlessly real, and I don’t doubt that most of this incredible stunt was actually performed in reality. The rest of the action in the film is rote compared to this sequence.

Luckily, the plot of the film supersedes the action. Incredibly, writer/director Christopher Nolan and his collaborators make you feel it is possible that Batman/Bruce Wayne might actually die. The big turn at the end of the fifth act (some are saying the third act of the film, but I would break down the complicated structure of this film into more than the standard three acts), caught me by surprise, although apparently those who know the comic book will guess it early. And while it is not a “twist” in the M. Night Shyamalan sense, that makes you re-examine the whole film in a new light, it nonetheless pulled off with much greater dramatic force than the “twist” where Charlize Theron’s character reveals her identity in Prometheus. I don’t think it holds up to much scrutiny — why wouldn’t x have just done y much earlier? But in the end it doesn’t have to. There is a nice symmetry established between this character and another that feels plausible in a movie world, if not 100% credible in our world.

Brief notes on the acting: Anne Hathaway was fantastic. Great introduction to the character (good writing gets credit here too), and she did action, vulnerability and sexy as the part required. I’m not sure she pulled off the emotional turn at the end, but bad writing deserves credit, to be fair. Tom Hardy is always great. Bane is scary. Gary Oldman was generally very good, but his big speech didn’t do it for me. (Writing?) Marion Cotillard… eh. Joseph Gordon Levitt… eh. I’d still watch the spinoff, because I like him as an actor. He didn’t really have much to do, for as much of the film as he was in. Michael Caine disappears from the film right when I didn’t want him to. But he’s good.

Only time will tell of course, but I think the Nolan Batman trilogy is well established to endure alongside other famous movie franchises. People will still be watching the original Star Wars Trilogy 50 years from now. (George Lucas still hasn’t messed it up enough to stop that.) They’ll be watching Lord of the Rings. I just re-watched the Kieslowski/Piesiewicz Trois Coleurs trilogy. I don’t think that one is going to last. The first two Godfathers will always have to reckon with the third. Matrix II & III will be only of historical interest. This conclusion to the Batman trilogy manages to wrap in elements from the previous films without letting them sink the story, as the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean did. (In a way, it even elevates Batman Begins by deepening that story.) The Harry Potter films might end up lasting longer than the books, or they could get the unceremonious treatment Spiderman just got, and get remade almost instantly for a fast buck.

The use of IMAX was great, although I noticed more cross-cutting between frame sizes here than I did in The Dark Knight. As usual the main reason is not the giant screen but the sound system in the IMAX theater, which did great justice to Hans Zimmer’s awesome score. Bane was intelligible except for a few lines, a critique I had noted and was paying attention to. I saw it at The Rave theater in Los Angeles, supposedly top-of-the-line for this kind of film. I did notice that some bass in the score and the sound effects caused a rattle. I don’t know if this was the filmmakers pushing beyond the IMAX spec, intentional “brown note” bowel rattles, or just the theater needing to refurbish a few speakers.

Screenwriting geek note: I noticed that Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan had an “and” rather than ampersand “&” between their names, but Nolan and David S. Goyer shared the ampersand for the story credit. The ampersand designates a writing team and the spelled-out “and” designates a re-write. Did the brothers disagree about how to end this trilogy? Well, looking up on IMDb I see they did not share the ampersand on The Dark Knight or The Prestige either. So maybe they just don’t believe in following WGA credit guidelines.

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