I always feared this would happen. Feared that before July 20th, of this year 2012 that I would be summoned by the movie gods to witness, and then review, a film that has held a special place in my heart, and head, since 2008ís The Dark Knight. A film which, against convention in so many different ways, redefined what a sequel, and moreover a comic-book movie should be. And, lest we forget the first $1billion comic-book movie in the history of Hollywood.
Now, after months and years of anticipation, the third and final chapter of director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is finally here. And for all of you expecting a neat and shiny send-off, be warned, for The Dark Knight Rises will chew up your emotions, shove them in a blender and hit "frappe". But what a wondrous frappe it is.
Eight years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight, and Gotham has begun to flourish. But while the citizens breathe a little easier, the weight of their actions begin to take their toll of both Commissioner Gordon (Oldman), and more so on Wayne; Batman is gone, and now in self-inflicted exile, Wayne is a shadow of his former self. Gone strong symbol of hope, replaced with callous, emotionless eyes and a blank stare more akin Trevor Reznik in The Machinist than Gotham's hero.
His trusted butler and surrogate father Alfred (Caine), along with ally Lucius Fox (Freeman) and new Wayne Enterprises director Miranda Tate (Cotillard), all try in vain to drag him from his emotional prison and bring him back to reality, but to no avail.
However, the emergence of two wildly different personas soon see Bruce "back into the game": slinky grifter Selina Kyle (Hathaway) who after a brief exchange with Bruce, ignites his human fires once more, but it isn't until he, and Gotham, set eyes on the ferocious Bane (Hardy) that Bruce breaks out the cape and cowl once more, much to the dissatisfaction and heartbreak of Alfred, who knows in his fragile state, may not win out this time around.
Nolan, ever the perfectionist with his realistic approach, creates the kind of terror and destruction that wouldn't be out of place in Armageddon; this Gotham is on its knees as Bane sweeps through the city, with Nolan once again using current events to push the villain envelope, as Bane wrestles Gothamís financial and political ways to the ground, echoing some of the recent Wall Street activities. And, once again, his use of IMAX (a full 70 minutes of it) fully immerses you in the chaos, with the grand scale perfectly realised on the big, big screen.
Ably supported once again by stellar work from Messrs Crowley, Pfister and Corbould, as well as Hans Zimmer's wonderful score, all serve to amplify Nolan's majestic direction throughout. Every punch, every gunshot, every fly-by of the gorgeous Bat will capture your imagination, and when Bane and Batman begin to throw down, anything the brilliance of Whedon, Vaughn or Webb can throw at you simply pales in comparison.
Acting too, as you would expect, is of the highest calibre; from Hardy's ferocious, unstoppable Bane (possibly the most brutal villain ever) through the tenderness of Caine and Cotillard, and the earnestness of Freeman and Oldman, as well as a welcome return for Matthew Modine, the company are once again of the highest calibre. But their performances are just the tip of the iceberg, for underneath lies the trifecta of Hathaway, Gordon-Levitt, and of course Bale, with all three giving career-best performances.
As our favourite grifter, Hathaway breathes new life into the famous feline, creating a Selina Kyle for the ages; smart, sexy but deadly-as-hell, her portrayal adds a new touch of elegance and frivolousness to the dynamics, and will silence all of the doubters, and then some. Gordon-Levitt, meanwhile, is superb as rookie cop John Blake, a role that on paper seemed secondary for such talent, but becomes so much more thanks to his honest performance. The moral centre of the film, Blake has to wrestle with the good and evil of the city as best he can, all the while knowing that Batman, while tragic in circumstance, is Gotham's true hero, and battles valiantly to make sure his legacy isn't forgotten.
And then there's Bale: stunning throughout, this is by far his best performance in the trilogy, and arguably the best of his career. While still as brutal and intense as ever as Batman, it's his raw, sensitive portrayal as lost soul Wayne as he battles both inner and outer demons, that makes the movie shine, and it would be no surprise if he is acknowledged come awards season for his performance here.
Still, it's not quite perfection (is any film really?), and there are very minor gripes on show; while Hardy is superb as Bane, the voice, which despite some work being done since the prologue's tease last year, is still a strain to hear sometimes, as well as coming across as a slightly camp Darth Vader in places; and while the screenplay is as good as anything in the trilogy, it suffers slightly with finale-itis, with some cornier moments rearing their head into proceedings. But then, as it's the finale, it's supposed to be, right?
Epic in every sense of the word, and with an emotional core more akin to Dickens or Kubrick (influences that Nolan has used to the full here) than any other blockbuster before it, Nolan and co. have created the bravest movie of its kind, and with it raised the bar they set twice before to heights only a Dark Knight could rise too. Stunning.
The Caped Crusader returns in the final part of Chris Nolan's trilogy....but does it rise, or fall??