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So it all comes down to this, and with The Dark Night Rises writer, director and producer Christopher Nolan looks to cap off what has been so far an electrifying, tour de force series of films that many consider to be the pinnacle of the comic adaptation genre. 2005's Batman Begins was made with all of the special effects and big action set pieces audiences had come to expect from watching such contemporaries as Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2: X-Men United, but it was also surprisingly more adult and set a new benchmark for what could be expected of such pictures. The ante was upped with The Dark Knight, a sprawling crime saga that took every dark corner of Begins and dialed them all to 11, which resulted in an Oscar-winning picture that broke box office records behind Heath Ledger's searing performance as The Joker. I can only imagine what anyone walking into a showing thought of it if the last Batman picture they'd seen was Joel Shumacher's Batman & Robin. So by my estimation Nolan's Batman is two for two, but how does The Dark Knight Rises stack up along side his previous entries?

 The Dark Knight Rises
It's 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, an enemy that is also versed in the uses of darkness and theatricality.

My favorite of Nolan's Batman films is still Batman Begins, mainly because it struck a closer tone in it's visual design and story elements to comic source material and the origin story of Bruce Wayne becoming Batman had never really been explored in any of the previous live-action films. With The Dark Knight, Nolan went further into the realm of realism with a film that could stand alongside many of the epic crime dramas of the past, which honestly was a bit of a disappointment for me, but when taken for what it is and not what it isn't it's still nothing short of a great piece of filmmaking. The Dark Knight Rises tries to straddle the line between Begins and Knight, and at times it works, but often the scale of what the story tries to achieve just seems to big for it to handle without coming off as clumsy.

 The Dark Knight Rises
Make no mistake, The Dark Knight Rises is as big and entertaining a technical achievement as blockbusters get with fine acting and plenty of action, but there's a clunkiness to the script that's difficult to ignore. Though admittedly easier to take on a second viewing, the plot is somewhat convoluted and padded, and the repetitive need of the writers for Bruce Wayne to "become Batman again" twice in the same film is the worst culprit, especially since it leads to there being very little actual Batman in his own flick. Another issue is the need to bring things back full circle with The League of Shadows once again threatening Gotham, which is a nice and symmetrical way to wrap things up but also a little too Return of Jedi-ish and expected. The passage of time is also awkwardly handled during the film's later stages, and even though characters explicitly say how much time is going to pass or how much time has passed between point A and point B there is little in the way of visual cues that might have reinforced the timeline. I'd wager that originally a much more elegant story with a League of Shadows backed Joker as the central villain instead of Bane was the plan, but getting anyone involved in the production of these films to admit as much is a long shot.

I do appreciate that The Dark Knight Rises returns somewhat to the visual flair of Begins with Bane's prison and the rebuilt Batcave calling back sets such as The League of Shadows' fortress, The Narrows and Wayne Tower, and the fusion generator turned bomb is as ridiculously enjoyable as the microwave emitter that Ra's al Ghul planned to destroy Gotham with in the previous film. These more outlandish pieces and story elements were something I missed in The Dark Knight, and I'm glad Nolan's final outing with Batman returned to them a bit more.

Though I've enjoyed this trilogy a great deal and see them as a very good series of films, I've never fully embraced Nolan's vision of The Caped Crusader and am glad that someone else will now get a turn in bringing the character's world to the screen. I'm also glad that they, along with the Spider-Man and X-Men films before, have helped skyrocket the genre to the place that is now, a cinematic world where we actually got an Avengers movie this year that was treated as the huge event it deserved to be and not relegated to the Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D like made-for-television movie it could have been if made just several years ago. I just hope that the whoever next takes the helm of Warner's Batman franchise realizes and embraces the fact that being "realistic" is not the same as taking the comic source material seriously and leans more towards what has made the comic endure since it first appeared in 1939. The best Batman film overall is still the animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and the recent Rocksteady Batman games iArkham Asylum and Arkham City (all written by that brilliant mastermind Paul Dini) are a couple of other excellent examples of where I'd like the series to continue on from here on out, and if the next Christopher Nolan to come along can accomplish something along those lines it should be something special.

 The Dark Knight Rises
Warner's video presentation of The Dark Knight Rises is exceptional, and though the switching between the pseudo-IMAX 1.78:1 and 2.40:1 aspect ratios can be distracting at first, you quickly fall into a comfort zone and appreciate the fantastic presentation. The IMAX portions--cropped from their native 1.43:1 aspect ratio to fit television screens--look unsurprisingly great with such a high level of detail and depth that you too will wonder why more directors don't opt for this format over 3D. The more traditional 35mm footage, which caused a bit of a problem on the Blu-ray presentation of The Dark Knight, looks great too with especially nice contrast levels and deep, dark blacks. I couldn't really detect any faults with the video that would hinder the presentation such as aliasing or banding, and being a brand new theatrical release the source material used is clean as a whistle. Overall this is a great, reference quality presentation on Blu-ray and the inclusion of the IMAX sourced footage certainly makes it one of the year's best.

 The Dark Knight Rises
Warner's audio presentation on the disc is every bit as good as, if not better than, the video presentation, and the only real complaint is that I was left wondering how much better a 7.1 track would have been if one were available. So yeah, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track here is good. Featuring a thunderous LFE channel that will quite literally shake anything in the general vicinity that isn't nailed down (I'm speaking from experience here) and a wide ranging sound field that takes full advantage of the surround channels, this track is now the standard for which others can be measured. Sound effects, music and dialogue (even Bane's, which isn't just relegated to the center channel) are all expertly mixed and all get their own moments to shine, and during scenes with large crowds such as the stock market and final battle you'll feel as if you were right smack dab in the middle of everything. Overall this is a great track, and there's really not much more to say other than you should warn your neighbors ahead of time.

 The Dark Knight Rises
Though I've come to terms with the fact that, yet again, there's no sign of what would presumably be an engaging commentary track from Christopher Nolan included in the extras here, what is included on the second Blu-ray disc of the set is fairly entertaining and informational high definition stuff. First up though is a feature not included on either disc, Warner's The Dark Knight Rises FX HD App, which can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play and will act as a sort of second screen option for more extras and behind-the-scenes material synced with viewing the film. As of this writing the feature is not yet active, but if it works like similar features--such as the app paired with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows--it should be a worthwhile extra to download and try out, given that you have a compatible device of course.

 The Dark Knight Rises
The major production featurette, "Ending The Knight", clocks in at right around 70-minutes, and while not as extensive as the recent "Furious Gods" documentary that accompanied Prometheus on that film's 3D Blu-ray presentation, the multi-part feature is pretty great in its own right. Along with pieces focusing on the production (The Prologue: High Altitude Hijacking, Beneath Gotham, Return to the Batcave, Batman vs Bane, The Bat, Armory Accepted, Gameday Destruction, Demolishing a City Street, The Pit, The Chant, The War on Wall Street and Race to the Reactor), you also get profiles on the characters of Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bane and Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Rounding out these are features based on filming in the IMAX format (Shadows & Light in Large Format) and "The End of A Legend", which focuses on the trilogy as a whole and gives many involved with the production of the trilogy a chance to reflect on the experience.

As good the production featurette is though, I really enjoyed "The Batmobile" even more. True, it really isn't an extra that focuses exclusively on The Dark Knight Rises, but it's great trip down memory lane looking back at the various incarnations of Batman's most iconic ride. Featuring the participation of Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, Joel Shumacher and a host of artists and writers it's an unexpectedly fun hour of Batman nostalgia. The rest of the features are rounded out with theatrical trailers for The Dark Knight Rises, an art gallery (both also on the second disc), and UltraViolet and standard definition copies of the film available through a download code and on the third disc of the set respectively.

 The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises is a very good capper to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and while my preference towards the more comic book oriented aspects of the character and the world in which he inhabits don't exactly jive with Nolan and company's vision, I've enjoyed these films nonetheless. If ranking the trilogy, I'd have to order them best to least (none of these films could be described as worst) in the order in which they were released. Warner Home Video's Blu-ray presentation features an excellent video track coupled with one of the best audio tracks you're likely to find on the format, along with a couple of hours worth of quality extras that leave you wanting a bit more. Overall, this is a definite purchase and should be near the top of your Xmas list.