"The Dark Knight Rises" *** 1/2
RATED PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language)
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
CAST: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Early in "The Dark Knight Rises," director Christopher Nolan's epic conclusion to his Batman trilogy, the ever-loyal Alfred Pennyworth confronts a crippled, withdrawn Bruce Wayne, who has been living like a recluse in Wayne Manor since he gave up the Bat cape eight years earlier.
"You're not living," Alfred says, emotionally. "You're just waiting for something bad to happen."
Then something bad -- very, very bad -- does happen in the form of the brutal Bane, who has come to a peaceful Gotham City to lead his own devious, evil version of the Occupy movement, a revolution against the city's wealthy and powerful. Oh, and he's brought a whole army of thugs and mercenaries with him. Alfred's worst fear comes true: The Batman will return to the streets for what, given the power of Bane, may be his last battle.
Make no mistake about it, "The Dark Knight Rises" is a spectacular show. The visuals are extraordinary. The action sequences are dazzling, especially so since Nolan uses very little CGI, relying instead on old-fashioned stunt work. It will be hard to shake some of the images, whether it's the stunning midair plane hijacking that opens the film, Batman tooling through Gotham on his cool toys or Bane blowing up a stadium during an NFL game.
But the real power of this final chapter is just how intelligently it melds references to, and commentary on, modern concerns while staying true to its comic-book roots and including those touches fanboys love, such as the addition of Selina Kyle (the Catwoman, although she's never called that) to the cast of characters.
Nolan and his brother Jonathan, a frequent collaborator, have written an audacious take on the Batman myth that draws from elements of Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel, "Dark Knight," and from the Bane-driven "Knightfall" series from the mid-1990s, without copying them. They touch on real-world fears such as terrorism, collapsing economies and domestic extremism. Underlying the whole script is the greatest terror of all: that, someday, everything in our lives will spin completely out of control.