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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Dark Knight rises in movie theaters this Friday on the wings of huge anticipation for the final film of director Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy, but there is one man who remains calm in the face of the media hype, Batman actor Christian Bale.
Bale slips into the bat costume of Gotham City's crime-fighting superhero for the last time in "The Dark Knight Rises," which like its predecessors has received strong early reviews.
Chosen by British director Nolan for his franchise reboot, which soared with 2005's "Batman Begins," Bale's stone-faced portrayal of conflicted billionaire Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman, was key to the movie's success.
The follow-up, 2008's "The Dark Knight," solidified Bale's status as a leading actor, and "Dark Knight Rises" will be his swan song in the role.
"I'm real proud of having achieved what we had set out to do," he told reporters at a news conference promoting the film. "It was a very important moment for me. It was an important character.
"It's the only time I've ever played a character three times in a row and the movies themselves have changed my life and changed my career."
Both movies earned praise from fans and critics alike. The first raked-in $372 million at box offices worldwide, and the second an eye-popping $1 billion. Bale went on to numerous other parts and eventually nabbed an Oscar for his role as a drug-addicted ex-boxer in "The Fighter."
When shooting of the "Dark Knight Rises" was done, Bale told reporters, he wanted time alone to think about the past seven years.
"I just went down and sat in a room and realized this is it," said Bale of the time the cameras stopped rolling. "I sat in that moment with the realization that we're done."
"Dark Knight Rises" picks up eight years after "Dark Knight." The caped crusader has disappeared from public view and is a fugitive thought to be responsible for the death of Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent. The man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, has become a recluse and is rarely seen in public.
But both are forced out of hiding when cat burglar Selina Kyle, played by Anne Hathaway, arrives in Gotham and a masked terrorist named Bane, played by Tom Hardy, shows up to take over the city. Batman comes out of hiding to stop them.
With many twists in a complex story, revealing more requires a spoiler alert. Suffice it to say that critics - not the easiest to please with superhero movies - are mostly happy.
The movie scored an 83 percent positive rating from seven early reviews on film website moviereviewintelligence.com. Time magazine's Richard Corliss called it "a film of grand ambitions and epic achievement."
Reprising their roles are Michael Caine as Alfred the butler, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Newcomers include Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Hardy, all three of whom worked with Nolan on his 2010 Oscar winner, "Inception."
Also new to the group is Hathaway, who essentially takes on the role of Catwoman, though that comic character's name is never directly referenced in the film.
"I loved that the focus was on who she was as Selina ... and she didn't change when she put on the suit - it was just kind of her uniform," Hathaway said of her character.
The actress said she had to get into fighting shape for the action scenes and that being in such good physical condition gave her a strong mental attitude that made it a "complete transformation" for her in the role.
While the Batman series has had its share of villains, including "Dark Knight's" The Joker, which earned actor Heath Ledger a posthumous best supporting actor Oscar, this final installment sees Batman meet his match in Bane.
Bale calls him "the first adversary of Batman that you know can probably whip his butt, which we've never seen before."
When Nolan called Hardy to offer him the role, he said he had to explain both the good and bad aspects of playing the tough guy behind a mask.
"The good news is I have a terrific part for you," Nolan recalled telling him. "The bad news is, your face is going to be completely covered for the whole film and you're going to have to (convey) this character through just your eyes and voice."
Now that it's all over, Nolan said he had no idea what his next movie would be. Like Bale, he needs some time to reflect.
"I'm going to go on a holiday and just relax and (enjoy) not knowing what I'm going to do next," he said.
(This story corrects name of film in fourth paragraph)
Reporting By Zorianna Kit; editing by Todd Eastham