A good trilogy centered on a superhero has yet to be accomplished. Some series, such as “Superman” and Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man,” have come close to having a great trilogy. But whether it’s due to Richard Pryor or an idiotic dance sequence, they always seem to screw up the third installment. Christopher Nolan is the first filmmaker to completely nail a superhero franchise from beginning to end.

“The Dark Knight Rises,” his grand conclusion to the Batman saga, is a film well worthy of its two exceptional predecessors. To call this the pinnacle collection of superhero pictures goes without saying. But “The Dark Knight Rises” additionally engraves Nolan’s take on the Batman legend into the history books as one of the best movie trilogies of all time.

“The Dark Knight Rises” calls to mind several Batman graphic novels, including “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Knightfall.” On the whole though, this is an absolutely original account from Nolan and company. Without giving too much away, the film takes place eight years subsequent to “The Dark Knight.” Batman has taken the blame for Harvey Dent’s death so the fallen politician may remain a hero in the eyes of Gotham. Thus, Bruce Wayne hangs up his cape and cowl, living a secluded life in his rebuilt manor. It appears that the city doesn’t need the Dark Knight anymore as crime continues to decline. Bruce is motivated to come out of retirement though, when a radical named Bane arrives in Gotham prepared to raise all hell.

Hidden behind a mask and a garbled German accent, Tom Hardy plays Bane in a commendable super villain performance. It’s a truly overwhelming task having to follow-up an antagonist as timeless as the late Heath Ledger’s Joker, a performance that won an Academy Award. Bane isn’t as frightening, charismatic or menacing as Joker. But then again, they’re both very different foes for the Dark Knight. Where Joker was a pathological psycho, Bane is a more physically intimidating opponent with a calculated plan to bring anarchy to Gotham. This makes Bane one of the most realistic villains ever depicted in a comic book adaptation, evoking the quintessence of terrorism.

Christian Bale does some of his finest work as the internally and externally wounded Bruce Wayne, struggling to walk away from the disheartening, lonely life of his alter ego. Batman isn’t alone in the fight for the future of Gotham. Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon are back to lend a helping hand in the Dark Knight’s hour of need. Michael Caine is especially strong as Bruce’s loyal servant Alfred, who is concerned the man he has raised is going to die without ever getting to experience happiness. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also praiseworthy as John Blake, one of the few cops in Gotham that believes Batman is good for the city.

The scene stealing performance comes from Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, a notorious cat burglar. This is a much more believable version of Catwoman than the one in “Batman Returns” or that horrid Halle Berry version. Yet, Hathaway still maintains the same seductive, scheming nature of the femme fatale we all love. She’s equal parts adversary and aid to Batman here. Despite their differences, the two masked outlaws find a common ground in their ultimate desire, a clean slate. From this, a romance arises with authentic chemistry between Bale and Hathaway. There’s an additional love interest in Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a wealthy businesswoman looking to buy out Wayne Enterprises. But the really compelling love story is between the bat and the cat.

Of course the special effects and action sequences are nothing short of sensational. What makes “The Dark Knight Rises” stand out from other well-made action pictures through is the sense of chaos and realism. In addition to excitement, the audience feels genuine dread throughout this meaningful film, notably during a remarkable climax. This is furthermore a character study of Batman, fueled by mesmerizing dialog, epic storytelling, and inspired twists.

Many felt that Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” should have been the first superhero movie to become a Best Picture nominee, an honor it inexcusably didn’t receive. With “The Dark Knight Rises” and Joss Whedon’s also splendid “The Avengers” though, there’s never been a better time for the Academy to seriously evaluate superhero-related pictures as more than summer escapism. Regardless of what the Academy says, Nolan has pulled off one of the most stirring cinematic endeavors of this young century that will not be forgotten any time soon.

Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach the reporter at nspake@asu.edu

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