8 years after the events of The Dark Knight, Batman is but a distant memory and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, injured by his years of fighting crime and cleaning up Gotham. The Dent Act has kept Gotham a law-abiding city, but all that may be about to change with the sudden arrival of Bane, a mysterious mask-wearing hulk who seems determined to see Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne, fall. However, it's not Bane who catches Bruce Wayne's attention, it's the sudden introduction of a cat burglar by the name of Selina Kyle who intrigues Bruce, as she ends up setting off a chain of events that draws the Dark Knight out of retirement to save Gotham one last time...
It wasn't just that Christopher Nolan made Batman cool again (which he did), he made the character relevant, placing him in a realistic universe and making his struggles and the struggles of Gotham relatable. I may at some point write a blog about the trilogy (and just gush endlessly over how much I love it) so for now, I will remain focused on TDKR. It's clear what Nolan was aiming for with this - Finality. Closure. A definite final chapter. After the cliffhanger The Dark Knight closed on, it was going to take a plot line of epic proportions to bring back the Bat and then send him off, all in a convincing manner, all in under 3 hours. Call me a fan boy or whatever, but in my opinion, he does it, and does it with panache. There isn't a single wasted minute in the two and a half hour run time, every minute you're watching Bruce or Batman or Selina or Alfred or Bane or Miranda Tate or John Blake or Commissioner Gordon and it's all important, it all moves the plot forward, it never slacks and the only time it ever drops pace is when Nolan is being deliberate and methodical and wants the pace slowed. It's the sign of a great director who can maintain control the pace of a film with so much going on as there is in TDKR.
It's also the sign of a great director that he's clearly done his homework, with this film pulling its inspirations from the Knightfall storyline which featured the debut of the Bane character and the Dark Knight Rises series which saw an ageing Batman come out of retirement. With the framework in place and story built around it, all that's left is the acting to pull it off and bring this to life. Christian Bale's Batman voice has always annoyed me, but it is what it is, a disguise, and it's part of the ethos now, so we just need to deal with it, because otherwise we'd focus on that and not Bale's great execution of a more troubled, more fragile Bruce Wayne. I say Wayne, not Batman, because for the majority of the film, the caped crusader is absent in favour of the supporting cast or Bruce Wayne rather than his alter-ego. Anne Hathaway is good as the mysterious Selina Kyle too, which was surprising, as I was unsure of her as an actress prior to this, but she seems to have been a good fit for the character. As for Bane, Tom Hardy is awesome. He bulked up for this more than he did for roles in Bronson and Warrior, and it shows, as he looks physically intimidating and steals focus in every scene he's in. The voice, as well, is intriguing, as he gives Bane the voice of an English gent, not what you expect from this behemoth, but in a weird way it works, because it makes the character more of an unsettling screen presence, more so than the lack of facial expressions we're offered by the face mask. The best performance though, by a mile, is that of Michael Caine as Alfred. In previous films, Alfred was no more than Bruce Wayne's servant and a support character, but in TDKR, Alfred is given more screen time and becomes integral to the story, even delivering a monologue which is heartbreaking. It's a phenomenal performance that deserves recognition if nothing else.
Saying that, there are more things that deserve recognition. I won't say this should be the next Best Picture winner, because this just isn't the kind of film the academy will ever go for. But the cinematography is beautiful once again, another product of the hard work of Wally Pfister and more than half the film being shot on IMAX cameras. Also, Hans Zimmer's score is dark and brooding, becoming triumphant and uplifiting at just the right moments and is just as great as his Dark Knight score. Back onto the film itself, and considering how many plot points are given away in all the trailers and TV spots and adverts and features, the film was still able to offer a host of surprises and geek-out moment, drawing from the rich history of the Bat franchise to bring in things like the Batwing, the Nolan version of Catwoman, seeing Bane break Batman's back over his knee as he does in Knightfall, the reappearance of Ra's al Ghul and Scarecrow, the shocking arrival of Talia al Ghul, the subtle use of "Robin"... Yet it's all done so nicely that it all fits together and doesn't feel like any of the elements are being forced in.
Overall, the word epic is thrown around a lot nowadays when describing films but I believe TDKR is as close as you will get to a modern day epic film. It has drama, suspense, action, comedy, twists, turns, surprises, everything you could want not just from a Batman film, but from the concluding chapter of a superb trilogy. Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and Emma Thomas should stand up and take a bow. The resisted the urge to recycle familiar villains like The Riddler and The Penguin and Poison Ivy, stuck to their vision of this trilogy, and only used the big names like The Joker and Catwoman where they wanted to, not where anyone else said they should. They've created a phenomenal trilogy with an epic final chapter, and after this it's hard to see where they'll go with the inevitable reboot in 20 years time without making it look like another Batman and Robin.