Four years ago, The Dark Knight was released to cinemas everywhere, setting a new standard for comic book-based movies. Christopher Nolan, who co-wrote, directed and produced The Dark Knight Rises, as well as the previous two installments said, “[We] felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to fulfill expectations based on the first two movies, while giving the audience something they hadn’t seen before. It was a tricky balance.”

Tricky? Perhaps, but not impossible it would seem. The Dark Knight Rises is not only the best film of the Dark Knight trilogy, it far surpasses expectations and hopes to become one of the best – if not the greatest – comic book-based film of all time.

The latest Batman film takes place eight years after the events in The Dark Knight. Gotham is a city free of organized crime thanks to Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the memory of Harvey Dent, who has become a sort of posthumous hero for the citizens. Batman (Christian Bale) has not been seen since Dent died, as he took the blame for his death. Additionally, it seems that Bruce Wayne, having lost the love of his life in the previous film, has become rather reclusive. He doesn’t even show his face for the Harvey Dent Day celebrations, which take place at his mansion.

Commissioner Gordon still wrestles with the thought of telling the people of Gotham the truth about Harvey Dent. Dent, after losing half of his face in an explosion, went on a killing spree and even threatened to kill Commissioner Gordon’s son in The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, Gordon is afraid of how the citizens may react when they find out that their dead hero was one of the villains all along.

At the Harvey Dent Day celebrations, we are introduced to Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), whom Nolan refers to as “a classic movie femme fatale.” Dressed as a simple maid, she infiltrates Wayne Manor and manages to steal pearls that belonged to Bruce Wayne’s mother. He catches her red-handed, but she does not seem to show any fear whatsoever, effortlessly back flipping out of the window.

Bruce deduces that it wasn’t the pearls she was after: more importantly, Selina had stolen his fingerprints. Intrigued by this, Bruce finally leaves Wayne Manor and makes an appearance at a charity ball in Gotham. There, he confronts Catwoman and retrieves the pearls, but leaves with no more knowledge on the whereabouts of his prints than he had before.

“I think Bruce owes Selina a big thank you because he was leading a pretty lonely life until she came in and got his blood pumping, and reminded him that there are fun people out in the world,” said Hathaway, who brilliantly portrays Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises.

Catwoman not only brings Bruce Wayne and Batman out of the shadows, she also leads him to the greatest threat Gotham has ever faced: Bane. The villainous character, played by Tom Hardy, is even more frightening than the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. Not only is Bane physically dangerous, he also poses a threat to the mentality of the people of Gotham. Bane offers them a challenge –to rule themselves rather than be ruled. In support of this challenge, he leads every police officer in Gotham into the sewers and traps them with explosives.

The scene is one of the most chill-inducing ones in recent movie history. As many have seen in the trailer, a young boy sings the national anthem in a football stadium while Bane and his followers take their places around the stadium. After commenting on how beautiful the boy’s voice is, Bane detonates the explosives, causing the ground to fall out from underneath the football players’ feet, and sending out a shock that rings out throughout the arena. With no law enforcement, and with Bane having blocked every way out of Gotham, the people take the law into their own hands.

“To be perfectly honest, we really try to resist being drawn into specific themes or specific messages,” said Christopher Nolan when asked about the film's parallels to the country’s current economic crisis. “Really, these films are about entertainment and story and character. What we do is try to be very sincere in the things that frighten us or motivate us or that we worry about.”

One thing that viewers will certainly notice about The Dark Knight Rises is that it is incredibly realistic. It is perhaps for that reason that the film comes off as frightening. Almost every scenario in the film could actually happen. Every crime, every heist, every motive is plausible here. Every character is fully fleshed out. In fact, you may even find yourself sympathizing with characters like Bane and Catwoman.

The Dark Knight Rises is also quite well equipped when it comes to its cast. From more seasoned talents like Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Christian Bale and Gary Oldman, to younger stars like Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film’s cast is absolutely unstoppable.

In fact, one of the most pleasant surprises from the film came in the form of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. Many could not imagine Hathaway as Catwoman: She is not known for action films, and in most films she has a rather sweet disposition. But she played the role perfectly, and it was always a joy to hear her spout off a few quips during her action sequences. For instance, at one point she is asked by a male assailant if her (extremely) high heels hurt. She answers him with a swift kick to his groin, saying, “You tell me.”

Christopher Nolan has done it again: The Dark Knight Rises is a juggernaut. The movie “rises” (pun intended) to the occasion, and really knocks it out of the park this time. Viewers may find themselves wishing there would be a fourth film in the franchise (which Nolan vehemently insisted is not happening), but the ending of The Dark Knight Rises feels right. Hopefully that feeling resonates with the fans who have followed these films since the beginning.

The Dark Knight Rises releases July 20.

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