"The Dark Knight Rises" 5 Stars based on the film as a whole and the feeling I had when I left the theatre. If I did half ratings, I might have given the film 4.5 for some poor pacing issues in the beginning of the movie. Because there really isn't much revealed in the trailer I'll make sure to be sensitive to spoilers.
Gotham is in an 8 year season of peace because of the White Knight persona perpetuated posthumously of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). This also made the need for Batman diminish and he has not been seen since the night he took the blame for Dent's death. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) also went into seclusion about the same time and has not been seen. Off the bat I had to say it was a poor way to reintroduce this character.
Soon things get underway and we are introduced to two new characters Bane (Tom Hardy) and Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway). Both embody their persona perfectly. Bane is held very true to the comic book as being someone of immense strength and intellect. 1997's "Batman and Robin" only got this half right. He is intelligent and an expert tactician. In Christopher Nolan's more gritty Gotham though he did exclude the Venom serum and the purposed source of his immense power. The muzzle like mask was a film worthy change from the luchador mask. It does a lot to add to Hardy's acting talents as he basically only had his eyes to act with. The voice was very ominous, but always did seems to feel like a voice over instead of being in the world.
Hathaway was also a strong presence on screen. Catwoman (although never actually named as such) serves as much more of a Byronic heroine. You can't really like her, but you certainly cannot hate her either. She steals just about every scene she is in.
There isn't a whole lot of character growth in our familiar characters, but there is some unexplained, or under explained personality changes that I had some difficulty with. Bruce Wayne does have some soul searching and and training to do, but I felt like I already saw that in the first film.
Luckily the new characters introduced were riveting and held my interest. The second act is where they really shine. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays rookie cop John Blake. He is one of the few Gotham city police officers who still has faith in the Batman. When Bane's plan begins to unfold, it is Blake who comes to the forefront of the film rather than Wayne. He becomes the protagonist the audience identifies with and as such saves this movie.
By the time we get to the 3rd act your heart is fully invested in these characters. I was continually shifting in my seat as the plot just got more and more intense, like peeling an onion. Then as the conflict is resolved and we watch the denouement, it is enjoyable and touching to see how each character is effected, an how they choose to carry on.
There are some intense scenes of terrorism in this film. Although most deaths are implied, the recent shooting tragedy Colorado reminds us of the all too human cost to random acts of violence. Those killed in the movie do not seem to be portrayed as more than set pieces, but these real events really brought home the horrible acts being committed by Bane. The language is relatively clean with only one PG-13 expletive and a few exclamations of deity's name. There is also a scene where it is implied the characters had been intimate.
If Acts 1 and 2 were paced a little cleaner, I would give this film a solid 5 Stars, but with the strength of the supporting cast and 3rd Act I just couldn't downgrade it to 4. "The Dark Knight" is still the strongest film in the franchise, but this is a close tie with Batman Begins.