"The Dark Knight Rises" ("TDKR") is dark in tone, content and philosophy.

It's difficult to set aside the abominable July 19 shootings at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater "TDKR" midnight screening. That horrific event shouldn't keep you from seeing "TDKR."

"TDKR," third in writer-director Christopher Nolan's trilogy, itself should keep you away.

"TDKR," as with "The Amazing Spider-Man," continues a trend that escalated with the "Transformer" series, in pushing a dystopian society view where civilization, especially as represented by urban life, appears shattered beyond repair.

In "TDKR," it's Gotham, stand-in for New York City, targeted by a villain called Bane (Tom Hardy), a kind of Hannibal Lecter (in "The Silence of the Lambs" scenes where Lecter wore what resembled a hockey game goal-keeper's mask). Bane wears a breathing device that obscures his mouth and wraps around his jaw and over his bald head. His electronically-altered voice sounds like that of Darth Vader.

"TDKR" has huge action sequences. The movie's dark spirit and anti-social tone, as was often the case with the aforementioned superhero movies, comes about with the implementation of Homeland Security measures, such as SWAT teams and associated hardware and vehicles.

Chief among Bane's terrible terrorist strikes is the blowing up of a pro football stadium, with the game in progress.

The violence in "TDKR" and similar movies of its ilk, is stomach-churning, mind-numbing and spirit-deadening.

Comic book violence is just that. Unfortunately, translated to the big screen, many film-makers insist on making violence appear as realistic as possible.

Another problem with "TDKR" is its convoluted plot. An admittedly chilling opening sequence involving an airplane and the CIA; a Wayne Foundation fund-raiser; and Batman's exile to what appears to be an African desert prison don't advance the plot. Instead, they stall the storyline. They are filler, albeit, elaborately filmed filler.

In "TDKR," the actors save the day. Their screen presence fills in holes in the screenplay by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer ("Batman Begin," "The Dark Knight") and the original DC Comics characters by Bob Kane.

Christian Bale is extraordinary. As Bruce Wayne, he's a Howard Hughes type recluse, hobbling along on a cane, his body wracked with pain from his crime-fighting efforts as Batman.

As Batman, and in a chiseled suit and mask that is the best Batman outfit yet, Bale looks the part, especially his ruefully pursed lips in the facial area visible around his mouth and jaw. In the Batsuit, Bale sounds like Clint Eastwood.

Anne Hathaway is cunningly clever as Selina Kyle-Catwoman. Hathaway, who often plays demure objects of movie desire, projects menace and creates mayhem.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, always excellent onscreen, is fine as Blake, a young Gotham policeman. Guess what's in store for his character? We won't spoil it for you.

Gordon-Levitt provides a lot of the humanity in "TDKR," as do Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, the armaments inventor; Gary Oldman, as Gotham Police Commissioner Gordon; Michael Caine, as Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler; Madeline Cotillard, as Miranda Tate, an heiress; and Matthew Modine as police officer Foley.

There are cool Batman vehicles, including a new combination Batplane-Batcopter, and Batcycle, which Batman and Catwoman ride.

Even so, there are simply too few human connections. And that's why "The Dark Knight Rises" sinks.

"The Dark Knight Rises," MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language; Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller; Run time: 2 hours, 44 min.; Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Stay through the beginning portion of "The Dark Knight Rises" closing credits and you will see two reveals, one about Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and the other about Bruce Wayne-Batman (Christian Bale) and Selina Kyle-Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).

Box Office, July 27: "The Dark Knight Rises" continued at No. 1, with $64 million and $289 million, two weeks.

2. "Ice Age: Continental Drift," $13.3 million, $114.8 million, three weeks; 3. "The Watch," $13 million, opening; 4. "Step Up Revolution," $11.8 million, opening; 5. "Ted," $7.3 million, $193.6 million, five weeks; 6. "The Amazing Spider-Man," $6.8 million, $242 million, four weeks; 7. "Brave," $4.2 million, $217.2 million, six weeks; 8. "Magic Mike," $2.5 million, $107.5 million, five weeks; 9. "Savages," $1.7 million, $43.8 million, four weeks; 10. "Moonrise Kingdom," $1.3 million, $38.3 million, 10 weeks

Box Office, July 20: "The Dark Knight Rises" opened at No. 1, with $160.8 million, pushing "Ice Age: Continental Drift" to No. 2, $20.4 million, $88.8 million, two weeks.

3. "The Amazing Spider-Man," $10.8 million, $228.6 million, three weeks; 4. "Ted," $10 million, $180.4 million, four weeks; 5. "Brave," $6 million, $208.7 million, five weeks; 6. "Magic Mike," $4.2 million, $101.9 million, four weeks; 7. "Savages," $3.3 million, $40 million, three weeks; 8. "Madea's Witness Protection," $2.2 million, $60.3 million, four weeks; 9. "Moonrise Kingdom," $1.8 million, $36 million, nine weeks; 10. "To Rome With Love," $1.4 million, $11.1 million, four weeks

Unreel: Aug. 3:

"Total Recall," PG-13: Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale star in the sci-fi adventure remake.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days," PG: The Kid is back in the animated family comedy.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline.com, where the movie reviews are archived. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com and on Facebook

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes