Is The Dark Knight Rises the Greatest Blockbuster Ever?

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The Dark Knight Rises

Tagline: The Legend Ends

It will likely never be confirmed, but it’s generally believed that the reason the Oscars expanded its Best Picture category from 5 to 10 movies a few years ago is because The Dark Knight didn’t get nominated (the ruling has since been tweaked, with a far too complex protocol allowing anywhere between 5 and 10 films). How could a film which garnered so much love from reviewers and the public miss out on the film world’s big (k)night out? Director Christopher Nolan, who had already done so much to reboot the franchise with his 2005′s Batman Begins, had the last laugh, though: he made more than a billion dollars for the studio, Warner Bros., (which, like TIME, is under the Time Warner umbrella) and then got to make his personal pet project of Inception, a movie which also was a box office smash hit, even if a large proportion of the takings were due to people seeing it a second time to try and figure it all out.

This time around, has Nolan been able to figure out how to appeal to his key demographic – those oh-so-demanding fanboys – but not turn away the everyman (and woman) on the street, as well as hopefully snagging some major Oscar recognition? Will the third time be his charm?

On the subject of numbers, four years may have elapsed since The Dark Knight was released, but in the parallel universe that is Gotham, twice as much time has elapsed. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman remains in self-imposed exile, still feeling responsible for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent, and thus is not remotely in the mood to rise. The superhero is “holed up with eight-inch nails and peeing into jars,” is the way one Gotham congressman unkindly puts it. Whatever shall he do? Fortunately, Wayne soon gets his mojo back, once the cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, never referred to as Catwoman) breaks into Wayne Manor and steals his late mother’s necklace. But that minor inconvenience pales in comparison with the emergence of Bane (Tom Hardy), who considers himself “Gotham’s reckoning,” and the way he opens proceedings proves he’s indeed a force to be reckoned with. But his raison d’être may make you think more of the Occupy movement, a point hammered home when Hathaway’s Kyle tells Wayne that “you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

Most critics can barely contain themselves. Our own Richard Corliss writes that, “For once a melodrama with pulp origins convinces viewers that it can be the modern equivalent to Greek myths or a Jonathan Swift satire. TDKR is that big, that bitter – a film of grand ambitions and epic achievement.” The Guardian is equally impressed: “The dark knight duly rises for the bruising final stanza in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, a satisfying saga of revolution and redemption that ends the tale on a note of thunder.” But the AP casts a rare dissenting vote, maintaining that “the feeling of frustration and disappointment is unshakable.” That may or may not be the case but the oddsmakers aren’t betting against Nolan’s third and final installment being snubbed at next year’s Oscars: it’s currently the fourth favorite to win Best Picture.

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