Nolan's conclusion to his Batman trilogy is an absolute corker. It outclasses every other summer blockbuster – The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man are kiddie cartoons compared to this one. The Dark Night Rises is for the big boys and girls.
And Nolan has marshalled a terrific cast to fulfill his vision. It's an ensemble movie; no one character dominates. Not Bale's Bruce Wayne, initially a recluse shutting himself away from the world in his gilded mansion, nor his alter ego Batman who comes out of retirement to fell evildoers. Nor does Hardy as arch nemesis Bane take centre stage. Bane is a burly brute with delusions of grandeur, wearing an appendage on his face to enable him to breathe. It also makes it difficult to comprehend his dialogue but that is but a small quibble. The actor's expressive eyes and pugilistic force make one readily believe that he could pummel anyone that dares to cross him.
Between these two bastions of right and wrong are a plethora of characters that give the tale impetus and the actors are highly persuasive in bringing this dark world to life. Hathaway is ideal as slinky Selina Kyle, decked out in tight-fitting black leather, her feline grace fiercely precise as she doublecrosses and maims anyone that gets in her way – never is she referred to as The Catwoman. Levitt has now matured into real leading man hero status as Detective John Blake, the sturdy police officer who is brighter than his superiors and has a special kinship with Bruce Wayne, while Cotillard is the attractive and wily business executive who falls for Wayne and takes over his company.
These are the new additions to Nolan's universe, but old hands are welcome too. Oldman's Commissioner Gordon is incapacitated for a section of the narrative but still shows fierce determination when the chips are down, Freeeman is his usual laid back self as science boffin Lucius Fox while the great Caine brings poignant authority to the role of manservant Alfred.
I can't go into the plot in any detail as it would spoil it for you. There are certainly some surprises to savour. Suffice to say that Bane takes over Gotham City, imprisoning the police underground while the people take over the running of the city. And this is where the movie has a zeitgeist effect. The bankers and billionaires are punished. People's courts spring up (one presided over by a familiar face) and these moments parallel the Occupy Wall Street movement that garnered influence around the globe last year. Towards the climax the police make their escape and size up against the marauding anarchists – reminding one of last summer's London riots. Whether this was intentional on Nolan's part is debatable but his timing couldn't have been better.
Bane has installed a nuclear bomb in Gotham (read Manhattan) and the island is cut off from help. There is no access across the bridges, the inhabitants have nowhere to go. The device is set to go off at a certain time. Will Batman save the day?
That's easy to answer, but there's so much else going on too. It's a complicated plot but Nolan keeps all the elements bubbling along with clearheaded energy and finesse. The pace never flags. But like all Hollywood product, there's an overuse of background music, especially in dialogue scenes, where it simply isn't necessary. That said, The Dark Knight Rises is an outstanding achievement – a vastly ambitious and wholly satisfying fantasy adventure, both exciting and compelling, that hits all its targets with aplomb. It's certainly far better than its bloated and overlong predecessor. Not only is it the best summer diversion you could wish for it is also by far one of the best movies of the year. Miss it at your peril.
SECOND OPINION: Stuart O'Connor ★★★★ Nolan concludes his Batman trilogy with a Bane and a whisker. And it's no surprise to say that The Dark Knight Rises – one of the most highly anticipated films of this year – is everything you'd expect from this terrific take on the Batman legend from one of the smartest and most imaginative filmmakers working today. It's eight years since the events of The Dark Knight, when Batman/Bruce went into self-imposed exile after taking the blame for the death of DA Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face. A damaged Bruce limps around Wayne Manor on a cane, noting that there's nothing out there for him any more. Gotham City has changed, and for the better. Thanks to the Dent Act, organised crime is almost non-existent. But all that ends when terrorist Bane turns up to take the city hostage and lead a revolutionary uprising that could easily have been snatched from today's headlines. Meanwhile, Batman swings back into action thanks to gorgeous catburglar Selina Kyle, who steals Bruce's mother's pearl necklace from a safe in Wayne Manor.
Bane's motives, at first, are about as clear as his voice – for a lot of the film, he sounds a lot like the teacher in the Charlie Brown films – but all is revealed as we approach the brilliant climax. To say more is to enter into spoiler territory. Much of what happens in The Dark Knight Rises harks back to the first two films – both with themes and events. Bane is big and brutal, and he beats Batman black and blue, but he's nowhere near as terrifying a presence as The Joker was in The Dark Knight. The rest of the cast all shine, as you'd expect, but the big surprise is Hathaway – her Selina Kyle is all flirty, minxy charm and a real nasty kitty when she wants to be. Hathaway finally dispels all doubt that she has oodles of talent behind that oh-so-pretty face.
Now to the minor niggles that led to the loss of a star ... Nolan is still far from being the world's best director of action, a lot of Bane's dialogue is hard to make out and at almost three hours, the film is too long. No, you don't feel the length, but does it really need to be that long? Those niggles aside, this is definitely the must-see film of the summer, if not the year. The Dark Knight Rises is truly Batman Triumphant, and Nolan can hang up the Batcape with pride.