I never believed that I would encounter a Batman successor that would usurp the 1989 motion picture blockbuster starring Michael Keaton as the first Bruce Wayne and masterfully hijacked by screen legend Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker with delicious wickedness. That was until the 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight, was unveiled to the world and took the bar to a higher level. So director Christopher Nolan had his work cut out for him to close the chapter on the Caped Crusader. And he prevailed spectacularly in The Dark Knight Rises.

Nolan and the current incarnation of Bruce Wayne (the mercurial but charismatic matinee idol Christian Bale) helped resurrect the franchise that sunk into abject cultural oblivion with Batman being portrayed by a similarly volatile Val Kilmer and, yes, even George Clooney. Bale’s extremely effective take on the Caped Crusader is the opposite of Michael Keaton’s yet very similar: dark, brooding and tortured by his past.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, where Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who is oppressed by the burden of being blamed for the death of late district attorney-turned-psychopath Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He had become a recluse, languishing in self-pity and hopelessness around his mansion, a cripple from the injuries sustained as Batman, while Gotham freely speculates about his sanity.

Wayne is content to pretty much rot to death, but his faithful butler and caretaker Alfred (Michael Caine) informs him that Wayne Enterprises is in major financial trouble, thanks in no small part to a clean-energy research project that Wayne spearheaded and then mothballed. But when a masked terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy) masterminds the swindling of Wayne’s fortunes and launches a populist uprising using an underworld of thieves and criminals, Wayne is both inspired and forced to don the Caped Crusader outfit and to stave off a nuclear revolutionary uprising that would have destroyed Gotham as Bane had planned.

Before he could mount an effective offensive, Wayne had to summon up an formidable alliance to go neutralize a seemingly impregnable evil fortress that the villainous Bane had created. It started, ironically enough with an enemy — Catwoman — brilliantly played by Anne Hathaway (who played Meryl Streep’s understudy and gopher in the modern classic The Devil Wears Prada), who began as a hopeless slave to the underworld and who original participation in a conspiracy to swindle the hero led to Wayne nearly crashing into destitution.

Batman also had Morgan Freeman on his team, who played genius Lucious Fox. Freeman summarized his role in the film this way: “Michael Caine [who plays Alfred] and I have come to the conclusion that he is the heart of Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox is the brain of Batman.” Fox was the one who, once Wayne was ready to fight the iconoclastic Bane and restore order to Gotham, created the high-tech toys and tools that Batman would employ to vanquish the villains.

In the end, The Dark Knight Rises, is a visual spectacular and emotional corkscrew that pulsates with excitement and has earned its title as the summer’s — if not the year’s — most anticipated motion picture extravaganza.

terry shropshire