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July 31, 2014, 3:27 am

No. 3 a charm for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

“The Dark Knight Rises,” the highly anticipated finale to Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, hits theaters Friday July 20, and despite its lengthy 2:45 running time, the film should keep even the most casual Batman fan completely engaged from beginning to end.

In this final chapter, Christian Bale returns as the Batman a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, who took the blame for crimes committed by Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight,” and has been in exile for eight years. A broken man, physically, emotionally and financially, he has been holed up in Wayne Manor with his faithful friend and assistant Alfred (Michael Caine) with no intention of ever leaving the sprawling estate.

In the meantime, Dent, now deceased, is being hailed as a hero on “Harvey Dent Day,” and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), has done a commendable job of maintaining order in Gotham City — until now. As the metropolis is celebrating the “legacy” of Harvey Dent, an unknown foe by the name of Bane (Tom Hardy) emerges, hell bent on destroying Gotham and everyone in it. Bane proves to be even more sick and sinister than the villains before him, and when it becomes clear that Gordon can’t handle him, Wayne, who believed that he would never again don the Batsuit or embrace his Batman persona, is forced out of exile.

Unfortunately, time and injuries have taken their toll, and with so many years since his last confrontation, Wayne’s physical capabilities are severely diminished, and his super hero skills are a bit ... rusty.       

To make matters worse, Bane is a beast! A definite departure from the evil, yet campy villains of the past, such as The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin. There is nothing even remotely amusing about Bane, who could be any titanic individual walking down any street in America and just goes insane.

As Wayne keeps an eye on Bane and struggles to work himself back into crime-fighting condition, he finds an unlikely ally in Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), who by day is the cunning Selina Kyle. He also gets a brilliant assist from Det. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), with whom he has quite a bit in common. Can the Caped Crusader & Company defeat the crazy and deranged Bane and finally take his rightful place as the savior of Gotham City?    

While the mandatory pyrotechnics, special effects and technological toys are in place, principal writers Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan have also crafted an ambitious, thought-provoking screenplay that features a surprising revelation at the end. Bale is compelling as the brooding Bruce Wayne, who is clearly at a crossroads. The devoted Alfred continues to encourage his friend and employer, who is still battling his personal demons, to basically get a life, while the brilliant and stoic Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) desperately tries to hold things down at Wayne Enterprises.

I initially had my doubts about the ethereal Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, and while she lacked the sassy edge of Eartha Kitt and the sex appeal of Julie Newmar, who both played the feline felon in the “Batman” TV series, Hathaway handled herself in the role, adding her own brand of quirky sarcasm. She still looked a bit skinny in the form-fitting cat suit though. My only criticism is that the low, raspy speaking voices of both Bane and the Batman sometimes made it difficult to understand what either of them were saying.

With captivating performances, engrossing storyline and a little something to keep you wondering at the end, “The Dark Knight Rises” is proof positive that heart-stopping action and a compelling story can co-exist. (Rated PG-13)

 

Contact Entertainment Reporter Kimberly C. Roberts at (215) 893-5753 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .