It was always going to be a difficult third act for Christopher Nolan to create. With a near perfect first two installments to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, he had a lot to live up to. My oh my did he deliver on that and so much more.
Starting out eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has turned recluse, hanging up the cape and mask for good, while Commissioner Gordon has managed to clean up the streets of Gotham in Harvey Dent’s name.
Before long though the mysterious Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway presenting a near definitive version of the character) informs Bruce - and the audience watching - that “there’s a storm coming”.
That storm comes in the form of the frankly terrifying Bane. Introduced here as an agent of Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, its nice to see the trilogy tie up the loose ends that we’ve seen come through from the first film, while moving the story forward as Bane makes good on the Leagues promises, and we see the fall of Gotham and particularly of Bruce Wayne himself.
There are sequences in the film which probably struggle to stay below the 12A rating, as the audience is forced to come to terms with the mortality and vulnerability of their hero, outmatched physically and mentally by a man even he must accept is his superior in every way.
The film’s emotional heart though is found through Michael Caine’s Alfred. Always an important part of the trilogy in a comedic sense, it feels like Nolan really moved the character forward here. It is him who gets many of the most poignant lines as he begs Bruce to simply give in, telling him simply that he “won’t bury you.” and that “he has already buried too many members of the Wayne family”. Your heart breaks as he speaks, and you literally feel yourself getting angry with Bruce as he ignores his oldest friend.
On Bane himself, there had been alot of talk before the release of the film about Bane's voice - especially following the prologue to the film which was shown in cinemas last year. Thankfully the vocal track has been completely redubbed since then, meaning thankfully that the voice was completely understandable (if a little raspy) throughout. Thomas Hardy's huge dominating figure is something audiences will come away talking about having seen the film, and while he is not as big as the character in the comics (like everything in the Nolan universe he is at least to some extent grounded in reality) he still towers over his fellow screen presences, and you truly feel a sense of dread whenever he is on screen.
The action sequences have all been ramped up from the previous installments too. Following the terrific lorry chase in The Dark Knight, there are several superb scenes in this - most notably a sequence in which about 100 police cars chase the caped crusader on the batbike (who in turn is chaisng Bane and his cronies), as they race across the streets of Gotham.
It feels like Nolan looked back at everything which had worked in the previous installments - a villain worthy of a superhero movie from the maniacal point of view, while still being firmly grounded in reality, a witty and fast moving script, and a concentration on the true angst and suffering of the hero. This Batman (and it has been alluded to in the previous films) is only a man, and you truly find yourself believing he could die at any moment - especially as this is the final act of the trilogy.
The supporting cast are great, as ever - from the appearance of Cillian Murphy’s psychotic Dr Crane as a judge in the kangaroo court Bane has setup to be judge jury and executioner, to the ever watchable Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, everyone is superb.
New comer to the franchise Marion Cotillard too does a fantastic job as Talia Al Ghul. While perhaps not the best kept secret - indeed I think just about everyone who announced her casting the movie originally attributed the role to her - the twist ending surrounding Cotillard’s true identity in the film was remarkably well handled, coming at a moment of true power in the film, and to say there was audible gasps in the cinema I was in when the revelation finally came through would not be an exaggeration
The film is as close to perfect as anyone could honestly hope for, making good on the promises of the franchise, and improving across the board to produce that most wonderful of things: a trilogy ender that is not just as good but better than what came before. I cannot wait to see it again, as I know there will be things I missed the first time around, but to be clear, this is the best movie this year to date. Not the best superhero movie, not the best blockbuster, THE BEST MOVIE. PERIOD.
Footnote: It was awesome to see Nottingham's Wollaton Hall double as the newly rebuilt Wayne Manor. Seeing my town on the big screen like that was mental :D