Review: The Dark Knight Rises
At stately rebuilt Wayne Manor, all is not well. Still haunted by the death eight years ago of his beloved Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a virtual recluse.
And with his alter-ego Batman blamed for the demise of Gotham's White Knight Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), he's also been unable to release his anger by donning the cape and cowl.
His one consolation is that in preserving Dent's sainted reputation, Gotham is no longer under the shadow of organised crime.
One thousand essential cogs to the mob's operations have been locked up under tough legislation known fondly as the Dent Act. "Pretty soon we'll be clamping down on overdue library books," jokes rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Change is in the air though. There is a talk of repealing the act and the mayor is planning to dump Bat-friendly Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman).
Like Wayne, Gordon has become a lost soul - his wife and family have left for Cleveland and the weight of concealing the truth about Dent's "two-faced" behaviour is becoming too much.
However, things are about to get much worse for Gordon and Gotham.
After hearing rumours about an underground gang, Gordon's sleuthing uncovers an army led by the monstrous Bane (Tom Hardy). Shot and left for dead, Gordon can only watch from hospital as this band of disenfranchised misfits "occupy" the stock exchange by force.
Sensing his city is in danger, Wayne feels the time maybe right to bring back the Bat, much to the consternation of his butler and protector Alfred (Michael Caine). "The city needs your resources and intelligence, not your body," he pleads.
"You're afraid if I go back out there I might fail," Wayne argues.
"No, I worry that I think that you want to."
Released to expectations of Phantom Menace proportions, The Dark Knight Rises was always going to struggle to meet the hype, especially in the wake of its truly stunning predecessor The Dark Knight.
With word that this is the concluding chapter in the Bat-trilogy, fans were hoping this would be writer-director Christopher Nolan's magnum opus.
Sadly, despite the epic 160-minute running time, it's not (Dark Knight was) - but it is very, very good.
The action is unrelenting (there's a Star Spangled stadium showstopper to rival Heath's hospital pass in Dark Knight), the effects top-notch and, as in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it all builds to an almost unbearably tense climax.
What it lacks, however, is a villain with the charisma and chaotic nature of the Joker that Heath Ledger so memorably brought to life in Dark Knight.
Bane is certainly an imposing physical presence and uncompromising nemesis, but there's a touch of the (Darth) Vaders about him and his belief that "what matters is the plan" means Rises ends up being more formulaic than we would have liked (despite a trademark clever Nolan-esque twist).
Better is the felonious feline Selina Kyle. Anne Hathaway, all slink and jink, vamps it up superbly, creating a kitty with claws, chutzpah and cleavage, while avoiding the supernatural and s and m tropes that plagued Michelle Pfeiffer's version of the character in Batman Returns (let's not even talk about Halle Berry in that film only fit for kitty litterbox lining - Catwoman).
That's been one of the key's to Nolan's success. After the horrid, lurid excesses of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, his trilogy has brought balance and a brutal reality back to the Bat (in much the same way that Casino Royale gave Bond back his balls - and you could argue that these are essentially Bond films with Morgan Freeman's Lucius Fox as Q and Caine's Alfred J Pennyworth as Miss Moneypenny).
If you take away the masks and toys, there is very real human drama at the heart of these films, with the terrorist threats and fear gripping these reel Gothamites, echoing the concerns and conundrums facing residents of its New York namesake.
Here, it's the Occupy Wall St movement, the push for a change - although in the world created by Nolan and his brother Jonathan - it comes with a warning - be careful what you wish for.
While those new to the franchise may struggle with some of the bat, sorry, back story, Nolan has certainly rewarded fans who know the other films well as well as students of Bat-lore (although some will bridle at the final payoff).
It might not be quite the conclusion we all wanted, but let's be fair, it is the engaging, exhilarating epic finale moviegoers deserved.
The Dark Knight Rises (M)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Staring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway