Christopher Nolan's “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third in his Batman series, and eighth Batman movie overall (counting the 1966 comedy), is the biggest of them all.
Coming in at nearly three hours featuring a story spanning years, it's a battle epic for the ages.
But it’s also rooted in the world’s current economic woes, and growing frustration over a widening gap between the ultra-rich and the have-nots.
After the destructive events of “The Dark Knight,” Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse; it follows that Batman also has not been seen in years.
A new villain, the massively strong and dangerous Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives on the scene, hatching a sinister plan involving a powerful, nuclear-based energy source.
At the same time, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) — also known as the Catwoman — manages to steal a necklace from Bruce’s safe, in addition to Bruce's fingerprints, which she sells to a nasty-looking thug.
Unfortunately for Bruce, and for everyone in Gotham City, these events are connected.
As with “The Dark Knight,” Nolan builds a fluid rhythm in the film, expertly conducting a complex series of simultaneous threads.
Improbably, he even keeps things going during a harrowing third act in which Bruce has been imprisoned in a giant pit — the daylight looming just out of reach — with a severely injured back.
Nolan, whose films are often obsessed with the passage of time, uses the extreme length of the movie to focus on his ensemble cast. In addition to the costumed stars, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Caine, among others, get many emotional moments to shine.
The movie even raises the most glaring question of all: What is Batman actually for? Is he selfish, or selfless? Is he a vigilante, or does he provide hope for all the frustrated and downtrodden? Is he a weirdo, or a symbol? Viewers are left to ponder the answers.
When Nolan initially took over the series with “Batman Begins,” he seemed overwhelmed, spending too much time on shaky-cam cinematography and explosions.
But with “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” he has tapped into something more powerful. This king-size summer epic takes on a noble cause, one that many great movies before it have tackled. It addresses the darkness in everyday life, acknowledges the pain, and fights back.