This Friday Christopher Nolan finally unveils his highly anticipated last ever Batman movie to the public. This one couldn't be any more hyped, but does it live up? Click for my Spoiler free take..

A good while back when shooting had just wrapped on The Dark Knight Rises, an interviewer asked director Christopher Nolan on a red carpet junket what the theme of his third and final Batman movie was. Nolan of course played it coy as ever, replying simply that we would find out soon enough. People like to attribute prevailing themes to Nolan's first two Batman movies -- fear, escalation etc -- so if I have to pin one on TDKR, I'll take this one: Hope.

Surprised? As many critics have pointed out, this is indeed the "darkest" of the trilogy, and the most melancholy. But ultimately, in many ways, it is also the most uplifting.

8 years after the events of The Dark Knight we find Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) a broken shell of a man. He's a recluse, only conversing with Alfred (Michael Caine), until he encounters Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) a highly skilled cat-burglar. Kyle robs him of his late Mother's pearls, and something else, something that kick-starts the story and sets Wayne/Batman on a collision course with the unholy terror, Bane. Aiding him are his old friends Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), as well as a couple of new faces in idealistic young cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a new love interest in Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). But, as his faithful friend Alfred warns him when he decides to put on the cape and cowl again, has he underestimated just how powerful and committed Bane really is?

There's quite a bit of plot -- arguably not all needed -- here which I won't go into, but the basic story is a simple one well told. Very well told, in fact it might be Nolan's most cohesively structured narrative yet. The pacing is spot on, although one or two scenes -- particularly that moment from the first trailer when Batman pays a visit to Gordon in hospital -- feel a bit rushed. The film looks incredible, but isn't that to be expected from cinematographer Wally Phister at this stage? Nolan has also definitely improved in the action/fight choreography department. I don't want to spoil anything but the first clash between Batman and Bane is going to be talked about for a very long time. But these movies have never been about action and spectacle first and foremost, they work so well because of the characters and the time we are given to get to know them properly. Some say Nolan's Batman movies lack heart, and while there is undoubtedly a coldness to how the stories unfold, I disagree completely -- particularly with this final installment.

Here Christian Bale gives his best performance of the three movies, hands down. He takes charge of the usual stuff (action, charm, general Bat-manning) better than ever, but it's the scenes showing a side to Bruce Wayne we haven't encountered before -- ones shared with the great Michael Caine in particular -- that he really shines in. He has the usual level of excellent support from Oldman and Freeman too, but what about these controversial (at least for comic fans) cast additions?

Those fans (or at least most of them, there will always be "purists") can rest easy, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway are both brilliant in this movie, in fact Hathaway threatens to run away with it altogether. Her Selina Kyle (never referred to as Catwoman, but it makes sense why when you see the movie) is crafty, sexy and most importantly adds a much needed sense of fun and playfulness to the proceedings. If anything my only gripe with her was that she wasn't in it enough. And then we come to Bane. Let's face it, no villain was ever going to compete with the character of The Joker for a start, he is the greatest comic book villain in history for a reason. Add to that the late Heath Ledger's incredible performance and I really don't think anyone could match up. That being said, Hardy gives it a damn good go. Acting from behind a steel muzzle which obscures most of his acting tools was never going to be easy, but he makes it work. A less interesting character than The Joker for sure, and one who's villainous motivations are a lot more conventional. But what he lacks in originality he more than makes up for in sheer brutality, and that much maligned voice? For me it was creepy and very effective -- even if I couldn't understand every single word! Yes, I'm afraid that old chestnut does come into play, and once in a very important scene too. Joseph Gordon Levitt is also on top form as Blake, bringing humanity, decency, and probably a bit more physicality than you might be expecting to the story.

If there's a weak link, I'm afraid it's Cotillard. She's good, but just doesn't have enough to do to make a real impact. To go too much into why her character doesn't really work would bring us into spoiler territory, but let's just say ..well, let's just say no more! You'll see soon enough.

Nolan was under a lot of pressure to deliver after the critical and commercial juggernaut that was The Dark Knight, and he has succeeded. Is it better? yes, in many ways it is, and in many ways the previous movie wins out. The point is that it is a worthy follow up, and a more than satisfying ending to the trilogy. I will echo a few other reviews by saying whoever reboots Batman -- whether they deliver a more faithful interpretation or not -- is going to have their work cut out.

Not without its problems (what is?), but a truly great achievement, and a brilliant film. Action packed, thrilling, thoughtful and heartbreaking, Christopher Nolan has indeed crafted one of the greatest trilogies in cinema history.

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