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It was never going to be an easy task – to follow up the slick, behemoth of a blockbuster that was The Dark Knight, with its spellbinding performance from the late, great Heath Ledger. Just how director Christopher Nolan was going to live up to this, yet alone exceed it as his Batman swansong was a mind-boggling conundrum. And while The Dark Knight Rises failed to top the powerful brilliance of its predecessor, it certainly ticks most of the boxes to make it a solid and well-crafted superhero film. Holding its own up there with the likes of its peers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers Assemble, The Dark Knight Rises has the ability to capture the imaginations of young and old and fantasist and realists alike.

With Bale confirming that this is his last Batman film, all eyes were on him. Gone is the OTT movie voice, to make way for a much more restrained yet equally effective performance. To make a character like Batman seem weak and feeble is no mean feat, but Bale’s representation of the fallen hero, combined with his brilliant take on the downtrodden Bruce Wayne compliment each other to make the audience really feel for the former millionaire playboy and indestructible hero; so much so, that in places you’d be forgiven for thinking that this wasn’t a superhero film at all, but in fact a touching human tale of one man’s struggle with his own mortality.

Despite the jaw-droppingly stacked Tom Hardy playing the seemingly unbeatable bad-ass Bane, this film lacks a strong and domineering villain. Maybe it’s the mask covering Hardy’s face throughout which means you never quite connect with the character, not in the same way as you could with The Joker, for all his quirks. Or maybe its because much of his power in the film is borne through his underground army of minions. Either way, it is certainly not down to any lack of effort on Hardy’s part, with some beautifully crafted scenes demonstrating the rage and emotion which fuels this Hulk-like beast. The fight scene between him and Batman is immense and will leave you squirming in your seat.

In lieu of a iconic baddie, we have the fickle cat burglar Selina, played brilliantly by Ann Hathaway. If you thought The Devil Wears Prada actress was too wet for this role, think again. Dressed in a skin tight catsuit (go figure, literally) for most of the film, she holds her own against the heroes and villains alike and really adds something to the plot. Will she or won’t she come through for Batman as he tries to rescue his dear Gotham City from total destruction? But she’s not his only hope. An ambitious young police officer and accidental sidekick, Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), puts his neck on the line time after time to help secure the future of his city, as former Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) lies injured in hospital. Gordon-Levitt (Inception) is fast carving himself out the role of Hollywood’s best supporting actor, but who just may get to step into the limelight should the next Batman film allow it…

With nods back to the last film, including butler Alfred (Michael Caine) making a heartbreaking confession and Fox (Morgan Freeman) proving his loyalty to the Batman cause as well as Commissioner Gordon’s battle with his own conscience, it would be fruitful to watch these films in order. But this film is set years later, meaning you’re also introduced to a wave of new and interesting characters, including the deliciously French Miranda (Marion Cotillard) and Deputy Commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine). Just watch out for the most unconvincing death scene of the year in one of the most inspired twists in the plot.

Words: Laura Williams