At 164 minutes, this concluding part is the longest film in Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy. But it doesn’t waste too much time recapping the momentous events at the climax of The Dark Knight. So you’ll need to recall that Batman (Christian Bale) wound up in disgrace, having taken the fall for district attorney Harvey Dent’s vengeance-crazed rampage so as to keep hope alive in crime-ravaged Gotham City. Eight years on, his billionaire alter-ego Bruce Wayne has become a crippled Howard Hughes-esque recluse rattling around the semi-mothballed Wayne Manor, much to the despair of ever-faithful Alfred (Michael Caine).
Time for a new villain to threaten Gotham, then. And what a terrific bad guy he turns out to be. Bulked up Tom Hardy revisits the mesmerising performance he gave in Bronson as the evil Bane. The only masked character in the film who never removes his mask, which looks like the kind of thing one might find in a sex shop catering to the needs of the extreme end of the bondage market, he relies on pure physicality to convey Bane’s menace. That’s just as well, given that his dialogue is frequently so muffled as to be inaudible. Bane is introduced during a spectacular airborne stunt sequence that almost trumps Bond – and wouldn’t you just love to see a Bond movie directed by Christopher Nolan? – before getting down to the serious business of luring Batman out of retirement with a nuclear threat to the city.
At the same time, initially mercenary burglar Selina Kyle/Catwoman enters Wayne’s life. A suitably lithe and seductive Anne Hathaway gives a far more complex performance in the role than Halle Berry did in 2004’s utterly risible Catwoman. Also joining the cast are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as resolutely heroic and idealistic cop John Blake and Marion Cotillard as altruistic Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate. Still in buttoned-down Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy mode, Gary Oldman‘s Commissioner Gordon remains conflicted over his part in the Harvey Dent cover-up, while Morgan Freeman reprises his role as the series’ Q figure, Lucius Fox, whose cool gadgets this time round include a flying machine called simply The Bat.
As before, Nolan juggles a number of plot strands, dropping the ball only occasionally – notably when Catwoman disappears from the film for a long stretch, only to pop up at a moment of convenience – but delivering a skilful piece of misdirection in the last reel. Whereas Spider-Man was all about teen angst, the Dark Knight deals with much weightier, politically resonant themes. Bane is a psychopathic terrorist cunningly cloaking himself in the rhetoric of revolution, while Wayne is a tycoon who’s lost touch with his business and philanthropy. Even the fight scenes seem more realistic, despite the heavy use of CGI, as the two adversaries slug it out viscerally while attempting to out-gruff one another in the dialogue department.