"THE DARK KNIGHT RISES" — ★★★1/2 — Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon Levitt; PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language); general release
It's something to see, all right — this "Dark Knight Rises."
An epic finale to the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale "Dark Knight" trilogy, it has the summer's best effects, the summer's highest stakes — Gotham City Armageddon — the biggest comic book movie thrills and best comic book movie chills of this cinema season.
It's a film of awe-inspiring set pieces and jaw-dropping stunts — less of this "Avengers/Spider-Man/Transformers" digital effects overkill. It's topical, morphing the "Occupy" movement into a few choice messages about the few who take from the many, and the many who take anarchy to its logical extremes.
No expense was spared, all the stops were pulled out and a lot of effort went into tidying up this phenomenally successful film trilogy, tying up loose ends, sending it and everyone involved off with a bang.
And it's wonderfully acted. The regulars are sharp, the new pieces in the puzzle interesting and Anne Hathaway is so good as Catwoman that this loooong film drags when she's not on the screen.
The story — The Batman (Christian Bale) went into retirement eight years ago after losing his lady love (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and killing good-man-gone-bad Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who is now celebrated as a hero.
Gotham City has been cleaned up. Only crotchety old Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, terrific) is still on a "war" footing. Something wicked this way comes.
That something would be Bane, a hulking, meaty-mitts-on-his-lapels terrorist who breathes through a mask and preaches anarchy. He will "free" the people of Gotham City by blowing it up — either in bits, or all at once.
Sassy Selena Kyle (Hathaway) is cat-burgling the 1 percent who warns Bruce Wayne (Bale), "There's a storm coming," that the rich soon will rue the day that the few "left so little for the rest of us."
Funny how the Bat keeps complaining to Alfred, "The Batman isn't needed any more." Funny how Alfred won't have his boss going out, risking death again. Funny how that would make a very short movie if both those things were true.
Funny — that's something the Nolan Bat-movies haven't been, but "Dark Knight Rises" is. Hathaway has a crackling way with a line. "No guns," orders the Batman when he comes to her rescue. "Where's the fun in that?"
Director Nolan fills the screen with returning players — Butler Alfred (Michael Caine), Morgan Freeman as the gadget guru, from Batman's mentor, Liam Neeson, to Cillian Murphy as the unnamed "Scarecrow." Newcomers include Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a righteous cop, Matthew Modine as an inept one and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as an energy tycoon. The script gives them all plenty to do and say.
But that makes for a bulky, bloated movie. For the third film in a trilogy, there are all these clumsy moments where characters blurt out long speeches of exposition. What really needs explaining, after all this?
Hardy is so big you'd swear he ate Kevin Smith to bulk up. But the posh voice he chose to send through that breathing mask sounds like Sean Connery imitating Darth Vader. Not that he's coherent, much of the time — lines muffled by the mask and sound mix.
And for a movie that aims for a certain tidiness, this one has a lot of random moments, unexplained and inexplicable actions by heroes and villains alike. I don't know about you, but I kind of like my screen heavies to have motivation for their villainy, and maybe an exit strategy. Then again, did the 9-11 hijackers have those?
That seems to be what Nolan was going for here, a film equal to the scale and messiness of the history we're living through. He's pro-Occupy Wall Street and anti-anarchy, pro police and against the "1 percent."
He takes this "Have it Both Ways" thing all the way to the climax, and beyond.
As summer entertainments go, Nolan and his co-writers have delivered one with a lot to chew on, and a lot more to see and hear. The effects put "2012" and even "The Avengers" to shame. The sound will overwhelm you, the huge set pieces — one at the beginning, another in the middle, a third at the end — are jaw-dropping.
And if you have any soft spot in your heart for this rich guy with a cape, a temper and a serious Messiah complex, you will be moved — maybe even to tears.
This is what summer popcorn movies were meant to be.
"Dark Knight Rises" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language; running time: 164 minutes.