While Michael Keaton, Adam West, and every other man who has ever donned the cape and cowl all brought their own ‘something’ to the role (well, except for maybe Val Kilmer), it’s not hard to imagine what they’ll think when they watch The Dark Knight Rises.

“Now that’s how you do a Batman movie.”

The final chapter of director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy both lives up to the hype and provides a more-than-satisfying end to the series.

Bigger and louder than either of its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t necessarily better than Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, it’s just different… and a perfect complement. While it doesn’t have a blow-your-mind performance like Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as The Joker, it does benefit from a top-rate ensemble (many of which are alumni of Nolan’s Inception), complex characters (including one of the more powerful and terrifying villains in recent memory), and a ka-boom scene that will leave many speechless.

Picking up eight years after Batman (Christian Bale) left Two-Face dead at the warehouse and abandoned Gotham, The Dark Knight Rises finds Bruce Wayne as a crippled recluse, and Gotham as an idyllic bastion of peace and harmony that celebrates Harvey Dent Day every year.

Until Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives.

After pulling off an incredibly staged hijacking (for reasons we’ll discover later), the ultra-buff, ultra-evil criminal mastermind (with a Darth Vader mouthpiece) retreats to the sewers with his Mad Max army, where he carefully brings his maniacal plan together.

But that’s not all that’s going on in Gotham. Cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is breaking into Bruce Wayne’s study to lift his fingerprints and sell them to a nefarious Wall Street-type. Wayne’s lifelong butler Alfred (Michael Caine) is not at all happy with where his master’s life is heading (and lets him know). And Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) has continued to create all kinds of wonderful toys in the Applied Sciences division of Wayne Enterprises.

Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is back for the ride, too, plucking officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from the ranks to help prepare for the approaching storm of evil and destruction. And Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is also along, helping Bruce restore Wayne Enterprises to its former glory.

The screenplay by Nolan and his younger brother Jonathan is full of twists, turns, and surprises (along with a few well-placed return cameos), and even though the finished product nears a Titanic-length running time (2:45), the pacing is superb. The various stories and subplots all mesh perfectly together, skillfully avoiding the pitfall of becoming just a jumbled, incoherent mess, and they’re highlighted by just enough mythology to elevate The Dark Knight Rises into the rare air of movies that entertain and do it smartly.

If there’s any complaint, it’s that the last twenty minutes feels more than a little comic book-y. Oh wait, we’re talking about Batman.

The unrecognizable Hardy is rock-solid (literally and otherwise) as Bane, a stark contrast to the unrecognizable Ledger’s maniacal Joker and Cillian Murphy’s creepy-cool turn as The Scarecrow, and Bale once again proves his worth as a Batman for the ages. But it’s the supporting cast that steals the show here. Caine finally gets a chance to give Alfred a bit of a pulse, and Gordon-Levitt brings a fresh, new feel to the festivities. Don’t be surprised if a name or two (along with Nolan & Nolan) pop up on the Oscar ballots this January.

The scope and breadth of The Dark Knight Rises is massive (particularly the climax, when Gotham is all but destroyed), but the stories are also intimate and personal– a best-of-both-worlds testament to Nolan’s superb abilities as a director and storyteller.

Along with providing the most entertainment for your hard-earned dollar so far this year (neck-and-neck with The Avengers), The Dark Knight Rises wraps things up as well as (or better than) anything that both fanboys and casual fans could have hoped for.

And it cements Nolan’s place as the man behind one of the best trilogies of all time.

5/5 stars