Let's just get this out of the way: It's not as superb as 2008's The Dark Knight. Still, Christopher Nolan's third entry in his game-changing superhero franchise stands alone as an emotionally gripping and impeccably crafted piece of filmmaking.

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The prologue alone is a heart-stopper, as masked brute Bane (Tom Hardy) escapes from a CIA-manned plane in midair. He soon plots to destroy Gotham City, leading Batman (Christian Bale) to emerge from an eight-year exile. Can the caped crusader trust a leather-clad cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) to help?

In a stellar cast, Hathaway shines brightest playing a slinky femme fatale. (She even induces chills strutting through a jail.) But while she rivets and Hardy menaces, Bale broods. Ever the tortured soul, Batman (as well as alter ego Bruce Wayne) wallows in a pit of desolation -- emotionally and literally -- for long stretches, which doesn't always translate into primo entertainment.

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Not that thrills are in short supply: From an explosive football game to a terrifying trading-floor takeover, expect the gold standard of tautly edited set pieces amid a twist-heavy story. And when the Dark Knight finally rises, true greatness prevails.

Us Rating: 4 out of 4 stars

This article originally appeared on Usmagazine.com: Review: Anne Hathaway Rivets as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises