TDKR is huge in every sense - yet still manages to deliver intensely dramatic small-scale scenes (Michael Caine's Alfred is particularly moving in his genuine affection for Bruce Wayne) besides the enormity of Bane blasting Gotham back to the stone age. This may be a comic-book-hero-based movie - but it ain't designed as wholesome family entertainment with a big cheesy Tony Stark-grin on its mask. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed 'The Avengers' as much as the next overgrown kid - but what Christopher Nolan's final entry in his Batman trilogy reminds us is that there are kids movies about super-duper-types in tights - and then there's dark, adult neo-noir drama that's actually about something more than sh*t blowing up, eye-popping visuals, witty dialogue and cool CGI. Whereas 'The Avengers' was fun, well made, well written and well-good - it remained at heart a Disney company financed family movie. TDKR being the final part of the trilogy, there's a palpable threat throughout that this might just be the Dark Knight's darkest night - and that he may finally be up against a foe in Bane who could, as in the comics, break the Bat for good. As Bane, Tom Hardy channels malevolence like a muscled mime on crack. His physicalisation is phenomenal and whilst that mask covers most of his face, it can't hide the hatred and passion for destruction Hardy brings to his character's eyes. But this ain't 'The Dark Knight' and the villainous Joker in the pack ain't the film's central focus. Instead we're back full-circle to 'Batman Begins' and the focus is on Bruce Wayne. Christian Bale is the best he's been in the series; a man who lucked out on being born with a diamond-encrusted spoon shoved up his Bat-side, but still bears the scars of his parents' brutal murder and the self-imposed blame for Harvey 'Two-Face' Dent's crimes from the last movie. Bale's supporting cast are superb - Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Juno Temple, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson - but special mention must go to Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle / Catwoman, who so many fans feared was a casting misstep, but turns out to be a worthy addition to Nolan's Bat-clan. 'Rises' takes the benchmarks set by the two previous movies and ups the ante in every department. Nolan's entire team are at the top of their game and the design, costumes, effects, stunts - everything - combine to create a seamless 164-minute masterpiece of modern action cinema. A romantic log-fire scene aside, those 2-hours 45-minutes never drag and never let up in drama, mood or intensity. Along with his brother Jonathan, Chris Nolan has again crafted a superb, multi-layered script based on a story by David S. Goyer, that is never patronising, overly-simplistic or by-the-Hollywood-book formulaic. Drama, pathos, satire, comic-quips, social commentary - it's all here. Contemporary post 9.11 terrorism. Financial crisis. Political paranoia. Media manipulation. The ever-increasing divide between the richest and poorest members of society. The fear of anarchy instilled by the sight of crowds of protestors on city streets. Nolan puts it all in the pot, stirs well, adds liberal spoonfuls of thought-provoking scenes, nail-on-the-head dialogue and provocative visuals and concocts a heady brew. Yet throughout it remains a cracking big screen popcorn movie with a thrilling narrative. Despite the probability of more Batman movies in the future, 'TDKR' is a fitting and fabulous end to a trilogy that, for me, deserves the mantle of "Greatest Comic Book Movie Series Of All Time..." - until the next one, that is. Anyway, superlatives aside? See it. Enjoy it. Snuggle up into it like a big warm fuzzy cinematic coat - because movies this good don't come around too often. And these days, when they do, they usually involve Christopher Nolan. Nuff said?
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