“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”

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BAT’S-EYE VIEW: Gotham’s Guardian ponders his next move

Batman is back, gloomier and angrier (yet more vulnerable) than ever, in the third and final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises”.

THE BANE OF HIS EXISTENCE: Batman’s latest foe puts on a show

This time, the villain is a hulking brute named Bane, a cold-blooded killing machine who uses many of the same martial arts techniques that Batman — that is, Bruce Wayne — learned years ago (in “Batman Begins”) as a young buck at the ultra-secret, ultra-sinister League of Shadows.

As the movie opens, Bane (who wears a mask that pumps him full of painkillers) is already on his way to Gotham City, where Batman — aka billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne — has been living in seclusion in Wayne Manor, still recovering from the injuries he suffered in the second film, “The Dark Knight” … and he’s been holed up there, unkempt, unshaven, and incommunicado, for a whopping eight years. (He is, to put it mildly, a total wreck.)

ARMED AND READY: Batman’s young ally, Officer Blake

When a young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns that Bane is on his way, he tries to coax Batman out of “retirement”. (The Caped Crusader — grossly misunderstood as so many comic book vigilantes are — may not be a hero among Gotham’s Finest, but Gordon-Levitt is, thank heavens, an exception.).

WHAT’S IN YOUR CLOSET?: Bruce Wayne and his iconic threads

High-powered explosives that topple buildings, bridges, even ballparks … a nuclear device that Bane uses to bring Gotham to its knees … corrupt congressmen, greedy business rivals, treacherous co-workers … a higher body count, it seems, than any half-dozen war pics combined — Nolan’s script (co-written with his brother, Jonathan) has it all, and pretty soon, no corner of Gotham is safe.

As Bruce Wayne/Batman, Christian Bale does nothing original, nothing different; he speaks in his normal voice (save, of course, for his mostly flawless American accent) as Bruce, then reverts to his usual throaty whisper as the Batman; Michael Caine is his usual efficient self as Bruce’s loyal butler, Alfred; Gordon-Levitt, slumming, does yeoman’s work as the heroic young cop; Gary Oldman — one of our finest screen actors and a personal favorite — reprises his role as the aging, but equally heroic Jim Gordon; Morgan Freeman is perfectly fine as the “brains” behind the Batman, Wayne Industries exec Lucius Fox; and Anne Hathaway as the svelte and slinky Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, seems to be having — with her flashing eyes and seductive smile — the most fun of all.

CUFFED KITTY: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman

The real problem with the film — its biggest drawback — is Bane himself, played by Tom Hardy. Bane has always worn a mask (at least in the comic book), the kind of silly lucha libre number that professional wrestlers wear, but Nolan has saddled him with something that covers his mouth completely, making many of his lines all but unintelligible. Hardy either delivers his dialogue in a muffled voice that makes him sound oddly like Sir Ian McKellen, or you can’t understand him, at all. (And, since only his eyes are visible, you can’t see much of his face, either.)

Hardy is doing his best, I’m sure, but thanks to that awful mask, he’s little more than a cipher. (You will miss Heath Ledger’s Joker, I guarantee it.)

“The Dark Knight Rises” has a typical Christopher Nolan plot: too many bad guys (enough to fill several movies), too many set pieces, and too many unnecessary twists and turns crammed into the finale.Is it visually spectacular? Yes. Is it entertaining? Certainly. Is it ever — and here, of course, is the most unpardonable sin of all — boring? No.

RIDING HIGH ON THE HOG: The Caped Crusader goes for a spin

For a longtime Batman fan like me, though, Nolan’s filmmaking philosophy — Less is more? Nonsense! More is never enough! — has made “The Dark Knight Rises” a disappointing effort, indeed...

TRAFFIC SNARL: Bane bombs another bridge

FILM REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien