Batman Begins was a gritty, strong, origin story. The Dark Knight was Sequel Escalation and the greatest superhero film of all time, only rivalled by The Avengers. And now too by its own sequel. FYI, I've never read a comic, so take my views accordingly. The film starts at a time when Gotham is at peace, so is low on action early on. This worked for me, because we know the storm is coming. A little calm beforehand builds tension and anticipation, though I can see why some disliked the pace. This time allows for the introduction of new characters, primarily of Nolan's Production Posse, all of whom are superb. Marion Cotillard in particular is stunning, once again demonstrating her immense talent with psychologically complex characters. Likewise, Tom Hardy's Bane, with a performance clearly drawn from that in Bronson. Joseph Gordon Levitt also stands out as one of the few good police in Gotham, proving to be one of the most likeable characters in the series, while retaining the dark humanity that most of Nolan's interesting characters bring to the table. As standalone film, TDKR does work, with flashbacks and explanations mostly removing the need to have seen the earlier films. Still, it clearly functions better as a trilogy's third part, doing well to tie off loose ends and concluding things as appropriate for such a film. Certainly, I recommend seeing the first two, as there are relevant plotpoints and the emotional impact will be enhanced if you've seen them. The film's plot - and primary villain - are an interesting hybrid of the first two. Gotham's destruction is imminent and both its innate corruption and the Leage of Shadows are involved. Bane is likewise a hybrid of Ras-al-Ghul and The Joker, with an evil muppet voice for some reason. He's less interesting than The Joker, but not by much. This makes the film a little predictable (one early action sequence mirrors one from TDK a little too closely for my liking) but more of a good thing is a good thing. Short version: TDKR's strengths vastly outweigh its weaknesses. The latter are Bane's evil-muppet-voice and a slight feeling of repetition of plot and villain. The former are the cast, acting, script, direction, effects, scale - everything else, basically. This film is still a superhero classic in its own right, and a worthy conclusion to one of the great trilogies of the current era.
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