Batman (Christian Bale) goes head to head with Bane (Tom Hardy) in “The Dark Knight Rises.” The movie is the third and final entry in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Warner Bros Pictures/Courtesy

Batman (Christian Bale) goes head to head with Bane (Tom Hardy) in “The Dark Knight Rises.” The movie is the third and final entry in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Now playing: Final ‘Dark Knight’ rises to the occasion

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

“The Dark Knight Rises”

4 out of 4 stars

165 minutes

Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Now playing at West Theatre in Craig and Wildhorse Metropolitan Stadium Cinemas in Steamboat Springs.

Before seeing “The Dark Knight Rises” for the first time, one cannot help but think of the opening of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” and the paradoxical “best of times, worst of times” conundrum.

How does it apply here?

Best of times: those precious seconds between the last of the coming attractions and the introductory title when anything is possible.

Worst of times: watching the crowd file out of a darkened theater a few hours later and realizing you’ll never quite feel this way again.

Or will you?

After years of being at the mercy of criminals, Gotham City is at ease and the people expect it to stay that way with the police force far more empowered than they ever have been.

Nevertheless, some residents like Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) know this prosperous state won’t last, especially since the figure known as Batman (Christian Bale) has gone into hiding. The vigilante hero’s alter ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, has also become reclusive, though no one makes the connection.

Having sworn off his crime-fighting lifestyle, Wayne has all but given up defending Gotham, but when Gordon is seriously injured in the line of duty, Batman is quick to jump back into action.

A new terrorist force is brewing in the city, under the command of a masked man known only as Bane (Tom Hardy) who quickly strikes out against Wayne’s business interests and dominates the Caped Crusader in physical combat.

As Bane puts his ultimate plan into effect, it’s up to those in Batman’s circle, such as conscientious cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and non committal cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), to step in for the fallen idol and prevent the destruction of everything Gotham holds dear.

Age is catching up with Batman, and Bale shows us a superhero whose cape is frayed and his speed slowing ever so slightly. But, even after putting his nighttime activities on hiatus for eight years, Bruce Wayne still has a few tricks to pull out of his bottomless wallet.

All the flying gadgetry and nifty tools of the trade may still not be enough to protect him from a threat like Bane, possibly the most frightening villain yet and the only one who can guarantee a beatdown.

Hardy doesn’t don the luchador getup and insanely muscular body seen in previous renditions, but the spirit of Bane is at its best in the form of a man fabled to have been born in an inescapable prison, whose scheming hits Machiavellian heights, all the while fitted with a wraparound mask complete with voice modulation that would make Darth Vader wet himself.

Speaking of costume changes, Hathaway is purr-fect — obligatory bad pun — as the shady girl who sees Gotham’s newfound prosperity as an invitation to rob the rich and give to herself. Opposites may attract, but when two people who both run around in black bodysuits find each other, it’s pretty hard to imagine anyone else as a longtime love interest.

Too bad she can’t get past the social status of the Bat’s true identity. Me-ow.

When you know both men are one in the same, to love Batman is to hate Bruce Wayne, and vice-versa, as seen in Michael Caine’s Alfred, who can no longer turn a blind eye to the dangerous activities of his employer and surrogate son.

Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox feels differently, thinking it’s high time Bruce just put on his cowl and never remove it, a sentiment shared by Gordon-Levitt’s mindful policeman, who knows something bad is about to happen.

Try cataclysmic.

Gotham’s faced freeze rays, clouds of laughing gas and mind control conduits in past Batman movies, but here’s where that world gets real as Bane unleashes his vengeance, keeping the entire city held hostage and at the mercy of the same criminals who have been locked up in recent years.

When Christopher Nolan swore this was the last Bat-film he would direct, he clearly didn’t want to make it easy for anyone else to take up the mantle. Virtually every element of this finale tops its predecessors, from the completion of the Batcave to the lingering presence of enemies gone but not forgotten to the visual and audio achievements all-around.

The handling of Bane’s voice alone is a triumph of sound — a calm, sinister, strangulated oral fog that comes from some other dimension, enveloping you in despair until you beg to be put out of your misery.

Fans couldn’t have asked for a better continuation of the events seen in “The Dark Knight” as Bruce’s development as Gotham’s protector goes full circle. Nolan’s only fault is instilling such a sense of completeness and trying to bookend the last of his three films.

Having firmly insisted that this is as far as he would go with the character, the filmmaker leaves little doubt as to the possibility of future Batman features, a somewhat cryptic provocation for an audience that expects an endless supply of stories and will never accept that the last word is actually the last word.

The drawback of “The Dark Knight Rises” is in knowing Batman films — if there are anymore — will never be the same. Even so, hope, however fleeting, is never gone, and that’s a theme Nolan develops in its entirety, knowing just what kind of legacy he’s created here.

Even doing things on his own terms that others may not agree with, it is a far, far better thing that he’s done than he’s ever done before.

Now playing at West Theatre in Craig and Wildhorse Metropolitan Stadium Cinemas in Steamboat Springs.

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