The latest installment in the Batman franchise is now in theaters, and it’s sure to become another blockbuster hit. The Dark Knight Rises features Batman’s comeback from what many consider to be his biggest crisis yet. With the entire world looking to Gotham City’s streets for their nightly lives, the Dark Knight faces an enemy more dangerous than ever before. The Penguin (played by British actor Robert Pattinson) has taken over as the city’s new super-villain, and he’s bent on destroying Gotham’s most popular hero. But Bruce Wayne isn’t going to be caught by surprise this time. He’s prepared for the worse, and he’s training his entire extended family–including his butler Alfred (played by Michael Caine)–to help him save Gotham City.

A Familiar Face

The Dark Knight Rises opens with a bang: an explosion that damages a corporate tower and Gotham City in general. It’s later revealed that the villain behind this act was an elite group of penguins led by the infamous penguin boss, Carmine Falcone (played by Wagner Abel). The penguins plan to use an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) device to cripple Gotham City’s power grid. Falcone hires the Penguin to help bring this plan to fruition, and the villain promptly attacks and cripples the city’s police department. This gives Falcone’s men free reign over Gotham City, and it almost costs the Gotham City Police Department their lives when they intervene to save Commissioner Gordon (played by Gary Oldman). During an escape attempt from the police, the Penguin is electrocuted and falls into a river. Alfred manages to pull him out, and the two head to a nearby hospital. But the Penguin’s injuries are more severe than anyone realizes. He’s actually in a persistent vegetative state.

Penguinism As a Religion

The Dark Knight Rises is at its heart a character study of the Penguin, his motivations and how he plans to achieve his goals. Director Christopher Nolan has created a character who is both relatable and sympathetic, as anyone can see themselves in the monster they’re trying to stop. This is in sharp contrast to previous Batman films, which often relied on a dislike for the Batman rather than an understanding of his character. For example, the 1992 film Batman Returns focused on the Joker’s (played by Jack Nicholson) twisted take on the Batman and made no attempt to hide its contempt for the character or his fans. It was also the first film in the series to feature an origin story for the Dark Knight, explaining how he became the hero he is known as today.

An Unforgettable Roles

Many have compared the Dark Knight series to the Godfather films, and it’s easy to see why. The Godfather, Part II (1974) and Part III (1987) are partly responsible for popularizing the idea of an unreliable narrator. In those films, Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone is a compelling example of a character whose actions and words we never completely trust. On the surface, everything he says and does is meant to be heroic and altruistic. But don’t be fooled. Beneath this veneer of morality, Corleone is a calculating and ruthlessly ambitious man who will do whatever it takes to ensure that he becomes the most powerful man in the city.

The same could be said for the Penguin. On the surface, he seems like an ordinary thug, and there’s nothing remarkable about his plans or approach to crime–until you get to know him better. He’s a Christian anarchist who believes that the ends justify the means, and he operates on the principle that if he wants something, then he’ll take it by any means necessary. This is most apparent when he tries to recruit a crew of assassins to murder Commissioner Gordon. He promises them that the money–along with whatever items they could steal in the process–will be better than what they could earn working for him. The fact that these are the same people, doing the same job, for the same pay, speaks volumes about how desperate and all-encompassing the Penguin’s desire for power is. His ultimate goal is to become one of Gotham’s most powerful and influential men and to force Bruce Wayne to kneel before him, just as the Joker did in The Dark Knight (2008).

Batman’s Redemption

One of the most compelling things about the Dark Knight Rises is how it weaves together two seemingly unrelated storylines into one cohesive whole. The first part of the storyline focuses on Gala (played by Anne Hathaway), an aspiring singer who witnesses the destruction of her studio in a freak accident. She happens to be recording at the time and is pulled unconscious from the wreckage. She wakes up to find a man–Bruce Wayne–standing over her. With no memory of who he is or how she got there, Gala has no idea that this is Bruce Wayne. She believes that whoever he is, he must be a superhero because he knows her name and remembers her songs. Unfortunately, Gala’s songs are just as bad as her acting skills (not to mention her singing voice), and the film’s comedy episodes range from mediocre to absolutely terrible. The filmmakers clearly never put much effort into writing any of the funny scenes, as they rely almost exclusively on crude and unimaginative gags that only an over-the-hill comedian would think of. But it would be unfair to judge the film based on its comedic moments, as Batman’s redemption plays out in an extremely satisfying and moving manner. Once Gala learns the truth about Bruce Wayne and realizes what kind of man she’s been fooled by, she becomes one of his greatest allies. She helps him find the will to fight back against the forces of evil that threaten Gotham City and its people. He’s even been keeping her on his payroll as his secret assistant, training her in ninjitsu and exposing her to as many different forms of lethal combat as he can think of. He knows that she’s the one woman he can trust, and he needs her more than ever. She can’t decide whether or not to reveal her identity, but regardless, Batman is surely grateful for her help.

More Than Meets The Eye

One of the most endearing things about Batman is his unwavering sense of justice. He will stop at nothing to make sure that the bad guys get what’s coming to them. The Dark Knight Rises continues this theme, and it’s arguably the best installment yet, in part because of this justice-minded outlook. The film is filled with action scenes that are exciting to watch and exciting to read about. But it’s more than just eye-catching stunts and special effects. Nolan and his screenwriters have managed to create a deep and moving character study about an anti-hero who only wants to do what’s right. Batman is one tough dude to kill. He doesn’t need to wear a mask to hide his identity; he simply needs to look into the eyes of his victims and know that he’s doing the right thing. This film is a must-see not only for Batman fans but for anyone who enjoys a good, solid character study. It doesn’t hurt that Robert Pattinson is a hottie, either.

The Dark Knight Rises is the most surprising of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, not just because it takes the franchise in a new direction but because it manages to feel like a natural extension of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. It’s dark and grim but also undeniably hopeful. This is a Batman film for the ages, one that will go down as a classic. Hopefully, we’ll see the return of an aging Bruce Wayne in future films, older and wiser and still ready to protect the city that never sleeps. One can only hope.