• Warning: Spoilers
    I cannot imagine a "Batman" movie after "The Dark Knight Rises" (**** out of ****) without "Inception" director Christopher Nolan at the helm. Warner Brothers and DC Comics got this legendary costume-clad crime fighter trilogy 'right.' Sure, you can nitpick, but Nolan's "Batman" movies differed in ambiance from those of both Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Nolan's "Batman" movies trod a thin line turning a vigilante into a hero and scrutinizing the morality of his behavior. Essentially, Nolan rebooted the franchise, recreated Bruce Wayne and Batman as troubled alter-egos, and turned the good versus evil episodes of the earlier films into full-blown spectacles. While sticking slavishly to the basics, he relied on his fertile imagination to give the characters greater depth and examine the issue of vigilantism. Nolan's Caped Crusader movies don't rely on humor as much as slight, off-hand comments. The action unfolds swiftly, and the characters are clearly delineated before the end credits roll. You prepare yourself for the surprises. The films replicate the haunted quality that Burton forged with his Michael Keaton forays, while Schumacher embraced a bright, heavily saturated, slightly surreal comic book quality. Of course, the "Batman" graphic novels of Frank Miller have influenced Nolan. Christian Bale's part in the success of the trilogy is considerable. He is more of a Michael Keaton "Batman" than either a Val Kilmer or a George Clooney crime fighter. Bale is to Batman the same way that Sean Connery was to Bond. Long-time British actor Michael Caine makes a superb Alfred Pennyworth, but Michael Gough was no slouch himself in the four previous "Batman" incarnations. Unquestionably, Nolan steps back from Batman at the Caped Crime Buster's zenith. The ending to this trilogy capper is odd. Indeed, Warner Brothers conceivably could make another "Batman" movie based on Nolan's conclusion to "The Dark Knight Rises."

    Anybody who tries to top "The Dark Knight Rises" will have a lot to prove both artistically and financially. Christopher Nolan is to the "Batman" movies what James Cameron was to the "Terminator" movies. Stepping into Nolan's shoes will pose a supreme challenge for whoever dares. Nolan approached the "Batman" franchise with reverence, played the plots as close to straight as possible, and shunned clever one-liners. "The Dark Knight Rises" surpasses both the "Batman Begins" origin movie and "The Dark Knight." "The Dark Knight Rises" takes the franchise to the brink of annihilation with what amounts to a Gotham City Armageddon. Batman contends with two worthy opponents that played a part in his origins. The most obvious villain is Bane. A hulking brute of a man, he looks like a cross between of a wrestler and equivalent of a human pit bulldog. Bane wears a contraption over his face that enables him to handle the pain of life. Basically, we never see British actor Tom Hardy's face because he conceals it with a mask. Interestingly, this imbues Bane with a mystery. Furthermore, Bane speaks through this contraption and he sounds quite avuncular. In other words, he doesn't sound as menacing as Darth Vader, but he doesn't mince words. Finally, former Disney princess Anne Hathaway makes a willowy Cat Woman. Just as the Marvel people had trouble getting Hulk right, the DC people have experienced similar trouble getting Catwoman right. Anne Hathaway makes the perfect Catwoman.

    The sheer spectacle of "The Dark Knight Rises" dwarfs "The Dark Knight." Eight years has elapsed since the murder of Harvey Dent and the disappearance of the Caped Crusader. Guests at Wayne Manor make remarks about the tragic figure skulking about on the balcony in the distance. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale of "Terminator Salvation") has turned into a contemporary Howard Hughes. He is amazed when he catches a burglar in his side of the mansion. Moreover, she is a delectable burglar. She has cracked Wayne's safe and stolen his mother's pearls. Since Gotham City is largely safe now, the authorities are not prepared when a gang assaults Wall Street and tries to plunge the economy in chaos. Batman makes a triumphant return in top form with a new gadget that resembles a mini-helicopter. Initially, Batman has no trouble licking his adversaries. Against the Catwoman, he seems vulnerable. She likes to let him down. When he confronts Bane, Batman's gauntleted fists exert no more effect on him than they would on a bag of cement. Indeed, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman of "The Fifth Element") is back on the case. He knows the truth about Harvey Dent, even if he doesn't know the identity of the Batman. If you missed either or both "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," you may find yourself in an expositional purgatory. Nolan's "Batman" trilogy fits snugly together, aside from the change of casting between "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" when Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes in the District Attorney's Office. "The Dark Knight Rises" packs the Caped Crusader into exile. Bane batters him into submission. Nolan takes not only Gotham City to the limit, but also he takes audiences to the limit with an actioneer that clocks in at 164 minutes. Nevertheless, "The Dark Knight Rises" qualifies as the best "Batman" movie ever!