EVEN before the tragic incident at a screening of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, Christopher Nolan's spectacular last chapter in his Batman trilogy made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

First, Mitt Romney's supporters claimed that naming the villain Bane was a direct reference to the Republican Party's presidential candidate's controversial career as the founder and chairman of Bain Capital, a private-equity firm with a reputation for asset-stripping, outsourcing to foreign countries and swingeing retrenchments.

Then there was the instance of a critic who dared to opine that the film was less than perfect receiving a death threat; reviewers want to be taken seriously, but not that seriously.

And, finally, conservatives took exception to the movie's depiction of the financial system being brought to its knees by activists far more militant than the anti capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement.

Somehow the desecration of a football game failed to arouse similar outrage.

Nolan opens proceedings with the mid air hijacking of a plane carrying Bane (Tom Hardy), whose reign of terror will awaken Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), aka The Batman - the script insists on the definite article to distinguish him from all the others hanging around the belfry - who has retired from public life and vigilantism because he chose to take the blame for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the revered crime-fighter, in the previous episode.

The lamed Bruce lives a solitary life in his mansion with only Alfred (Michael Caine), his concerned factotum, for company until an uninvited Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a skilled thief who is Catwoman in all but name, invades his privacy.

Wayne Enterprises is still active and so is Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), its weapons specialist, while its board of directors includes Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).

The law is represented by the new police chief (Matthew Modine), who dislikes Batman and Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a detective who admires him.

The action sequences are truly awesome in both conception and execution: from the first scene through chases, gunfights and hand-to-hand combat to Batman's flight through Gotham's famous skyline - an effect even more exhilarating than Spider-Man's swinging from building to building - no expense has been spared to achieve the highest level of visual excitement. However, Nolan is not content merely to amaze, he is also devoted to such sub-themes as duality, resilience and trust, be it misplaced or deserved.

Only some of the principal characters are above suspicion as their deeds are over shadowed by their selfish motives, culpability and complicity.

For example, Gordon (Gary Oldman), the former police commissioner, knows the truth about Dent's criminality and, indeed, the circumstances of his death, yet he has remained silent, albeit with a degree of guilt.

All Nolan's contributions to Batman lore have been long - Batman Begins (2005) clocked in at 140 minutes, The Dark Knight (2008) at 152 and this is a monumental 164 minutes long - but none has lacked either jaw-dropping spectacle or speculation as he delved into the Caped Crusader's troubled mind, a consequence of his having been taken to a performance of Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus (The Bat) by his parents, who were fully aware their son suffered from a fear of chiropterans ; they paid dearly for their mistake and their fate left a deep psychological scar on the young Bruce.

Big themes such as class warfare are touched on but not allowed to develop any significance - after all, Bruce is the beneficiary of a fortune derived from selling armaments - as the over complicated plot, bits of back story and, of course, realistic violence are the centre of attention in a film which, despite its length, seldom flags even when it has to resort to exposition to remind us of the past or to explain Bane's psychopathic behaviour and the reasons for his determination to create anarchy.

As for the paranoid overreaction, Bane appeared in Batman comics 20 years ago and his homophonic presence here is probably accidental, not malicious.