The Dark Knight Rises

It's been a funny old week for Christopher Nolan's threequel. In a matter of days it went from being a liberal conspiracy to make Republican candidate for President Mitt Romney look bad (you couldn't make it up), to supposedly being responsible for a man opening fire at hundreds of innocent people in a Colorado cinema. But while the recent attention on The Dark Knight Rises has nothing to do with the film, perhaps it's time we ignored the ridiculous headlines and got down to the nitty gritty - that being that it is, quite frankly, great.

As a lifelong Bat-fan I've never quite understood the criticism aimed at the character. Naysayers argue that Batman is not a hero, but a bored billionaire in a suit who goes around at night beating up muggers. But it's the lack of superpowers that makes him so inherently fascinating and I'm guessing it's that complexity which attracted Nolan to the character in the first place. His intention was always to reinvent the character and tell a story that hasn't been told before, but what Nolan has actually done is reinvent the superhero movie to such an extent that it's barely a superhero movie at all.

Eight years have passed since The Dark Knight and the only thing that stops Bruce Wayne from looking like a crazy hobo is his silk robe, faithful butler and the fact that he resides in the east wing of Wayne Manor instead of Victoria tube station. Still reeling from the death of Rachel Dawes and carrying a lie that has transformed Gotham, he's kicked into action by a bald brute called Bane (Tom Hardy, look abnormally massive), who's brains, brawn and power of his faithful minions make him a genuine danger to the city that's now so clean most cops have bugger all to do.

Much has been said of Bane's voice and intonation but despite having trouble understanding a few words during my first viewing, the second time he was very clear and I'd actually grown to enjoy his weird "Ian McKellen gargling marbles under water" impression. Hardy actually does a tremendous job of making up for the fact that half his face (and to most people's chagrin, his mouth) is covered, and if there was an award specifically for eye-acting, it should go to him. But Bane isn't the only new face in town and despite being her harshest critic, I'm not too much of a dick to admit that Anne Hathaway is a genuine surprise as my beloved Selina Kyle. Yes, I know it's a shock to hear that I am capable of being wrong, but it happens.
She'll never as bonerifically brilliant as Michelle Pfieffer's interpretation, but then again, no-one will, and her version effortlessly slips into Nolan's Gotham and provides some welcome wit and charm that frankly, I didn't even know she was capable of. There's no shortage of supporting characters but only a handful are given time to develop and justify their presence; Joseph Gordon-Levitt is dashing as always and does a hell of a lot more with his character than most would and Micheal Caine adds emotional weight to the story as the only person who cares more about Bruce Wayne than Batman, but Lucius Fox is basically the black Q to Bruce's Bond and Marion Cotillard feels like an empty character until her motives are revealed. And don't get me started on the way they wasted Juno Temple...but those are minor gripes.

Unlike The Dark Knight - which was stolen by Heath Ledger's lightening-in-a-bottle performance - this is all about Bruce Wayne, and Christian Bale clearly relishes being front and centre and is certainly affective as the battered hero. Nolan continues exploring the themes of fear, hope and escaping, and for a Batman film we rarely ever actually see him because they're too busy trying - and succeeding - to demonstrate what it actually means to be a hero. After The Dark Knight Warner Brothers obviously wrote Nolan and blank cheque and every penny is on screen; it looks stunning and is full of little touches so broad it almost demands several viewings. Nolan's ambition is often described as a help and a hindrance and yes, not everything flies, but if you're looking for me to criticise a director for daring to attempt several ideas and not rest on his laurels you've come to the wrong place.

The film is an enormous, sprawling epic that goes the full hog for Nolan's last hurrah. The finale is such perfection no-one could've asked for a better end to a surprisingly great trilogy that has eradicated the memory of Batman & Robin and proved that superhero movies have the ability to be more than just wank material for Comic-Con nerds. And while the countdown is on to Warners inevitable announcement of a reboot, I'm far more interested in what Christopher Nolan is going to do next, presumably after a jolly good lie-down.