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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This summer, the superhero bar has been set pretty high. "The Amazing Spider Man" made half a billion dollars in less than a month. Marvel's "The Avengers" is closing in on a billion and a half in less than three months.

And now comes Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." It concludes director Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. Our movie critic Bob Mondello says it does so with both epic and real-world flourishes.

BOB MONDELLO: Before a hero can rise, he must suffer a fall. And fall, the Dark Knight quite spectacularly did the last time around; taking the rap for crimes he didn't commit, marking himself as a vigilante pariah, and even letting Heath Ledger steal his reviews. No way that's happening in the last installment. A comic-book tale that's gotten darker than anyone thought possible, is now careening toward a burst of light - possibly a nuclear blast - at the end of the tunnel.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (as Character) Oh, boy. You are in for a show tonight, son.

MONDELLO: Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy has always focused on the psychology of evil. This time, the director is looking more at the sociology of evil. What's your poison - terrorists? Wall Street shenanigans? Government incompetence? Nolan's got you covered. This film's bad guy trained in a Middle East hellhole, conspires with stock manipulators, and exploits the mother of all police cover-ups.

Are you troubled by the social inequality making political headlines? Well, studio heads may identify with billionaire Bruce Wayne, but Nolan knows there are more moviegoers in the 99 percent.

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ANNE HATHAWAY: (as Catwoman) There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us.

MONDELLO: That's Anne Hathaway's cat burglar, whispering Occupy talking points into the ear of Christian Bale's reluctant hero. And she's not the only one who's mastered messaging.

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TOM HARDY: (as Bane) When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.

MONDELLO: Bad guy Bane - played by Tom Hardy in a mouth guard that'll give fanboys orthodontist nightmares - has his anti-government rhetoric down so pat, he can make a new Bastille Day sound vaguely reasonable. And his diabolical plans include everything from a "People's Court" straight out of Dickens; to a nuclear nightmare set not in the previous film's stylized Gotham, but in a gritty, post-9/11 Manhattan, complete with a still-under-construction tower at Ground Zero. Quite a setting for supersized super-heroics.

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MONDELLO: I saw the film in 35-millimeter and did not feel deprived, though I'll certainly be heading back to catch it in IMAX at some point. Even without an image five stories tall, the spectacle is considerable - pumped up by a Hans Zimmer score so thundering that it pretty much drowns out the dialogue, in some spots.

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MONDELLO: Still, you get the point. And if a couple of Morgan Freeman's bat-gizmos seem sort of standard-issue - a big-wheeled bat-cycle, for instance, that's not very interesting until it corners - he and the rest of the characters keep things plenty compelling, whether they're old friends like Michael Caine's protective butler...

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SIR MICHAEL CAIN: (as Alfred) I won't bury you. I've buried enough members of the Wayne family.

MONDELLO: Or new ones, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's earnest police officer.

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JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: (as John Blake) When you cleaned up the streets, you cleaned them good. Pretty soon, we'll be chasing down overdue library books.

MONDELLO: As you might expect from the creator of "Inception" and "Memento," there are surprises both in the story, and in the storytelling. But the biggest surprise may just be how satisfying Nolan has made his farewell to a "Dark Knight" trilogy that many fans will wish he'd been willing to make a whole lot longer.

I'm Bob Mondello.]

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