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    The Dark Knight Rises: Five Things We Just Learned Today—Plus, More Pics!

    Christian Bale, The Dark Knight Rises Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Pictures

    The final Batman-vs.-evil story is almost upon us. Well, the conclusion of Christopher Nolan's telling of the saga starring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader is almost upon us, anyway.

    But that's a sadness for another time!

    We are secure in our knowledge that The Dark Knight Rises is going to pack a massive punch of surprises when it finally hits theaters on July 20 (starting at midnight, naturally), but juicy nuggets of information—and cool new photos!—continue to flow ahead of the film's release.

    So, here are five brand-new things to know about The Dark Knight Rises...

    WATCH: New Dark Knight Rises Trailer Reveals an Angry Batman

    Christian Bale, Michael Caine, The Dark Knight Rises Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Pictures

    1. What Year Is This? According to 49 pages of production notes helpfully released by Warner Bros. (a routine process ideally intended to better inform critics and entertainment reporters, despite the risk of major spoilage), The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after Batman battled the Joker, clashed with Harvey Dent and lost Rachel Dawes in an explosion that still makes us shudder a bit. And yes, people think Batman is a murderer. But at least Alfred had plenty of time to rebuild the Batcave, right?!

    Joseph Gordon Levitt, Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight Rises Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Pictures

    2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt Does Have a Purpose: The other new characters we get: Bane, Catwoman, Miranda Tate (gotta have at least one gal without an alter ego, right?). But just what is JGL doing? At last, we know for sure: Gordon-Levitt's John Blake is a guy who hasn't been sullied by the seedy underbelly of human nature so prevalent in Gotham. "Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne have become somewhat jaded, so we wanted to contrast that with a younger, more idealistic individual who, in a way, represents where they've come from," Nolan says. "Joe really captured the strength and courage of a man who refuses to back down, regardless of the odds."

    The Dark Knight Rises Screengrabs Warner Bros.

    3. New Toys: That new airborne vehicle Batman is riding around is aptly named the Bat. Conceived by gadget and superhero-transportation master Lucius Fox, it's part helicopter, part jump jet—and all kinds of awesome. The new mode of transport freed up the earthbound Bat Pod for Catwoman, but Anne Hathaway admits she wasn't the one raising hell on two wheels. "When they asked me if I thought I could ride it, I said, ‘You give me the opportunity, and I guarantee I can do it,'" said stunt driver Jolene Van Vugt. Speaking of stunt doubles, the evil Bane knows Batman's every move—literally. Bale's double in the first two films, fight coordinator Buster Reeves, stepped in for Tom Hardy's scariest-bad-guy-yet as well.

    MORE: Amazing Spider-Man's Midnight Opening—How Big Was It?

    The Dark Knight Rises Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Pictures

    4. IMAX Is Essential: While he passed on 3-D and used actual, tangible film stock, Nolan didn't forget that movie audiences these days are seeking exceptional, larger-than-life theatrical experiences. With that in mind, he shot almost half the film with large-format IMAX cameras—meaning, those extra few bucks per ticket are so worth it. Therefore, if you live near one of the 102 IMAX 15/70 mm screens that will be showing the film, consider yourself obligated to go there. Otherwise, just catch The Dark Knight Rises on the 14,898 other screens it will be playing on around the world. (For those keeping score, that's 4,000 more screens than the record-shattering The Dark Knight, which ultimately made $1 billion, opened on four years ago.)

    Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Entertainment

    5. Get Even More Comfortable Than Usual: It's been a long time since an Event Movie clocked in at under two hours—and The Dark Knight Rises will be no exception! In fact, its running time is a whopping two hours and 45 minutes—15 minutes longer than The Dark Knight and 25 minutes longer than Batman Begins. (And 23 minutes longer than The Avengers and The Hunger Games, 29 minutes longer than The Amazing Spider-Man, 35 minutes longer than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, etc.)

    GALLERY: The Dark Knight Rises Flick Pics

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