With more than an hour of footage shot on IMAX to enhance picture quality and truly immerse the audience in the pulse-quickening action, The Dark Knight Rises ends Nolan’s tenure on a giddy high.
It’s to the London-born film-maker’s credit that he resisted the urge to jump on the 3D bandwagon for the caped crusader’s swansong.
Certainly, the breathlessly orchestrated action sequences, including the spectacular opening aboard a huge C-130 Hercules transport plane, would draw bigger gasps in the eye-popping format.
However, Nolan has always focused on the characters and their twisted psychologies, and he puts all of them and us through the emotional wringer in this final chapter, co-written by his brother Jonathan.
The script is a little too cute in places, inadvertently giving away one major plot point well in advance, but it certainly doesn’t hurt our enjoyment to be two steps ahead of the good guys.
Christian Bale brings typical intensity to the title role and the tender bond with Sir Michael Caine’s lackey continues to tug heartstrings.
Thankfully, Tom Hardy’s electronic vocals have been improved since the early trailers for the film so his masked villain is largely intelligible and Anne Hathaway slinks away from Michelle Pfeiffer’s memorable portrayal of Catwoman but still purrs some choice one-liners.
It is eight years since Batman falsely assumed responsibility for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) in order to bring the anti-crime legislation into effect and crush Gotham’s criminal fraternity.
The caped crusader is a fading memory and crippled billionaire Bruce Wayne (Bale) has become a recluse, holed up in his manor with trusty butler Alfred (Caine).
An encounter with wily cat burglar Selina Kyle (Hathaway) draws Bruce into the orbit of hulking terrorist Bane (Hardy), who intends to complete the work of Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) and destroy Gotham and its money-oriented denizens.
A dastardly plot unfolds but Bruce is physically and mentally unable to stop gangs of gun-toting mercenaries from overwhelming Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the Gotham police force, including idealistic officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
As Bane’s uprising gathers momentum, Bruce turns to technical genius Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and loyal board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) to protect his beloved Wayne Enterprises.
Alas, money can only go so far and Bruce must don his cowl one final time, putting his life on the line to save the residents of Gotham, who had turned their backs on him.
The Dark Knight Rises should satisfy ardent fans of the previous two instalments while delivering all of the slam-bang thrills required of a muscular summer blockbuster.
Action sequences are adrenaline-pumping. From the bruising fist fights, which fully warrant the film’s 12A certificate, to high-speed chases aboard the nifty two-wheeled Bat-Pod and the introduction of a stealth aircraft nicknamed The Bat.
Nolan effortlessly sustains tension throughout, harking back to earlier episodes as he sews up some but not all of the sinewy plot threads.
Star rating ****