To call "The Dark Knight Rises" "highly anticipated" at this point would be an understatement.
The fervor for Christopher Nolan's third Batman film has been so intense, tickets were selling out in select theaters back in January, months ahead of its July 20 U.S. opening.
With this being the third and final film in an acclaimed trilogy, each casting announcement and trailer clip has been thoroughly analyzed and discussed. And now, thanks to early reviews that have circulated on Monday, the fascination with "The Dark Knight Rises" has reached a new level.
"Big-time Hollywood filmmaking at its most massively accomplished, this last installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy makes everything in the rival Marvel universe look thoroughly silly and childish," says The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy.
"Entirely enveloping and at times unnerving in a relevant way one would never have imagined, as a cohesive whole this ranks as the best of Nolan's trio, even if it lacks ... an element as unique as Heath Ledger's immortal turn in 'The Dark Knight.' "
A review from Todd Gilchrist at IndieWire's The Playlist says even more effortless than Nolan's filmmaking is the way the movie "fits into the summer's conversation about The Big Important Issues that are preoccupying us, even when we're walking into darkened theaters and asking only to be entertained."
Set eight years after the events of 2008's "The Dark Knight," the latest installment finds Bruce Wayne/Batman (played to applause by Christian Bale) in seclusion. Gotham City not blames the caped crusader for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent. There's even been a drop in crime in Gotham City -- that is, until Tom Hardy's masked sociopath Bane rips into Gotham, leaving terror and death in his wake.
With aid from Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle, who initially lures Bruce Wayne out of hiding with a burglary, Batman tracks down Bane only to find that it is going to take some doing to vanquish this villain.
Gilchrist calls the film "A cinematic, cultural and personal triumph," adding that the story "is emotionally inspiring, aesthetically significant and critically important for America itself -- as a mirror of both sober reflection and resilient hope."
Variety's Justin Chang notes that, "All in all, the picture impressively conveys a seething vision of urban anxiety that speaks to such issues as the greed and complacency of the one percent, the criminal neglect of the poor and oppressed, and above all the unsettling sense that no one and nothing is safe."
HitFix's review from Drew McWeeny found that "The Dark Knight Rises" "more than fulfills the promise made by the first two films."
"We may never see superhero films quite like these again, and that's fine," the review continues. "Whoever Warner Bros hires to reboot the 'Batman' films a few years from now, I wish you luck. The bar is as high as it could possibly be."
Agrees Time magazine's Richard Corliss, "The most eagerly anticipated movie of summer 2012 was worth waiting for. ... The movie may not top 'The Avengers' at the worldwide box office, but it is a far, far better thing -- maybe the best, most troubling, assured and enthralling of all the superhero movies."