The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20

“The Dark Knight Rises” beyond expectations.

Christopher Nolan has some pretty big shoes to fill – his own. After his directorial success of “The Dark Knight” four years ago, he now needs to live up to the new superhero movie standard that he set in place. Because of Heath Ledger’s Oscar performance as the Joker, everything in “The Dark Knight Rises” will be compared in great detail. This will have most moviegoers asking themselves if his latest epic (and I do mean epic, clocking in at 164 minutes long) is going to be as good as “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.”

Beginning eight years after Harvey Dent’s death in “The Dark Knight,” we are introduced to our villains pretty quickly. First with Bane (played by Tom Hardy), who is a muscle-bound mercenary being transported by the CIA via plane. His team of fellow mercenaries rescues him by a high altitude heist and he is off to Gotham City for vengeance. An important note here – Bane has a breathing issue where he needs a respirator over his mouth. This proves a difficult task to understand every word he says.

Meanwhile, in Gotham City, there is a small celebration for Harvey Dent Day at stately Wayne Manor. Our hero Bruce Wayne/ Batman/The Dark Knight (played by Christian Bale) is a bit of recluse; he has hung up his cape and cowl. During the dinner party a maid, Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway) is sneaking around the manor looking for a few items to make her own. She is a woman and she is a cat burglar, but the writing team of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan never once had anyone refer to her as Catwoman.

Soon Bane is in town, starting his revolution; he is on a mission from the League of Shadows, which was set in motion from “Batman Begins.” While hunting Bane down, Commissioner Gordon (played by Gary Oldman) is hospitalized which forces a good cop, John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to seek out Batman/Bruce Wayne. Wayne reluctantly moves back into his old Batman days to help his friends. Batman finally makes his appearance when Bane robs the Gotham Stock Exchange, ending in an exciting motorcycle chase and introducing us to the airship simply called “The Bat.”

All along there is an important side story where Miranda Tate (played by Marion Cotillard) is trying to acquire a fusion reactor from Wayne industries to use as clean energy for Gotham City.

Let’s hold up here, there is a lot happening in this movie‑ lots of issues concerning Wayne’s reluctance to become the Batman again and Bane’s own revenge scheme. And also Nolan’s own commentary on current issues such as the crash of the stock market and environmentalism.  Most moviegoers need to know that there is no over the top Joker performance and no roller coaster of high tension suspense. It’s a long detailed story of a city’s own rise against its captor.

Now back to the rest of the story. With help from Selina, Batman locates Bane for their first hand-to-hand fight in the sewers of Gotham. Bane breaks Batman’s back and holds him in a prison on the other side of the world.

With Batman out of the way, Bane is free take control of Gotham, using the fusion reactor as his power play. He plants explosives around the city and even is able to take control of professional football game after destroying most of the stadium. The city is run by marshal law for the next several months, while Wayne spends the time healing his back and trying to escape his prison. He is discovering more about himself. Again Nolan doesn’t treat him as a hero but as man with weaknesses just like any other man.

Batman is soon back in town to save the city, but we see the city is already being saved by its own citizens and its real heroes – the Gotham City Police Department. Without giving too much away, the last 20 to 30 minutes of action and suspense make up for some of the lag time leading up to the end.

Should you see this movie? Yes, of course; this completes Nolan’s trilogy that started out as superhero story and evolved into a mad man trying to destroy a city then ending with a city uniting to overcome its enemies.

For the final installation, this ideal had very little to do with the actual Batman and had everything to do with the people of Gotham. This is not a flashy superhero movie like “Spider-man” or “The Avengers” where the victims are powerless. This is a movie where all the key characters are heroes, not just one guy in a cape.

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