5/5 stars

Cryptic trailers released last summer have had fans rabid for the finale of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and now The Dark Knight Rises is finally here in all its epic glory.

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is a self-torturing recluse and Batman has disappeared. The people of Gotham continue to laud Harvey Dent as a hero and revile ‘the Batman.’ Gotham has been lulled into a dangerous complacency thanks to laws implemented in Dent’s honor that finally cleaned up the crime-plagued city.

Crime has gone underground — literally into Gotham’s sewers — to escape harsh penalties, but evil has reorganized under revolutionary villain Bane’s (Tom Hardy) leadership. Bane’s compelling power and radical goals quickly become clear early on during the stunning airborne action sequence that was featured as a teaser trailer.

Although several new characters are introduced, make sure to brush up on Batman Begins before heading to the theater. The Dark Knight Rises draws on both of the previous films but leans more heavily toward the first. Nolan made it clear that Rises would not expand upon The Joker’s imprisonment at the end of The Dark Knight. Considering The Joker’s significant presence, there’s not much material left over with which to work — and it’s doubtful that anyone would have adequately filled the hole left by the late Heath Ledger.

Fans of The Joker shouldn’t worry about his absence, though, because Bane and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) prove outstanding villains in their own right. Honestly, The Joker and Bane don’t deserve to be compared because they exhibit different — though equally valid and vicious — types of evil.

The undeniably handsome Hardy is unrecognizable as a ’roided up fighting machine. Bane’s brutish rage and raw strength fuel his desire for social upheaval in the now supposedly clean Gotham City. When he speaks, it is with such gravity that everyone stops to listen, an effect greatly enhanced by his Darth Vader-like voice.

Hathaway’s Selina is the Holly Golightly of villainesses. She exudes glamour and grace even while drop-kicking men twice her size. Selina by turns inspires and antagonizes Bruce Wayne and ultimately proves to be a catalyst that brings him out of depression.

Bale embodies Bruce Wayne’s monstrous struggle. He grapples with incredible anger over the death of his loved ones but never quite manages to find a healthy outlet. For him, it is more important for Batman to facilitate change than to be a symbol for good. This leaves him with few genuine friends besides his trusty butler Alfred (Michael Caine) and business partner and armorer Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).

The forces of good are not absent from Gotham, though. Eager cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes Commissioner Gordon’s protege, and his honesty shows that even a regular Joe can effect change in Gotham City.

The Dark Knight Rises exudes a sense of grandeur rare in superhero films. The gadgets are enough to make any fanboy squeal in delight, but Nolan ties in larger ideas of social change and personal growth to satiate even the least action-inclined among us. Hans Zimmer’s sumptuous score lends a sense of magnificence to the exquisitely choreographed action. Nolan filmed most of the action with cameras suited for Imax screens, so the experience is definitely worth the extra money. The entire film is executed on such a grand scale that a regular theater almost seems inadequate.

The Dark Knight was a tough act to follow, and Nolan seems to have understood that. The Dark Knight Rises is not an attempt to top its predecessor; instead, it is a satisfying conclusion to an unforgettable saga.

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