The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, aka Batman

Suddenly, it seems as Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is dogged by tragedy. The Dark Knight was haunted by the untimely death of star Heath Ledger, while The Dark Knight Rises will forever be associated with the terrible events in Colorado.

And it's not as if the films themselves are a bundle of laughs. Like its predecessor, The Dark Knight Rises is a huge, shadowy, epic powerhouse, punching so far above its comic book superhero weight it's in its own stratosphere.

Our hero, eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne, aka the Batman (Christian Bale) begins the film a broken man, lurking, lonely in a dust sheet-shrouded mansion, rejected by the city he swore to protect, nursing wounded pride and gammy knees.

Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises

Meanwhile, lovely Tom Hardy has nommed his way though twice his body weight in pies to play the caped crusader's new nemesis, Bane, a ruthless, hulking, masked mercenary/anarchist intent on reducing Gotham to ashes, just because he can. (I think. With a voice that channels Brian Blessed crossed with Oliver Reed (now there's a sat nav) talking into a can of Special Brew (perhaps not), it's not always entirely clear what he's saying.)

And then we have Anne Hathaway's lithe, surprisingly convincing Cat Woman, who robs from the rich to give to herself, and flirts with ideas of the 99 percent rising up against the privileged one – until it actually happens, and chaos takes control, sweeping aside the American Dream to make room for a Stalinist dictatorship complete with kangaroo courts and summary execution.

If Drag Me To Hell and Lovely Molly can be classed as recession horror, then this is recession action at its very best, not so much occupying as storming the barricades of the City, the forces of anarchy and law clashing headlong in the streets in scenes reminiscent of the miners' strike, a First World War foray over the top or the charge of the Light Brigade.

Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises

Can Batman rise to the challenge and restore order? Because he's got his work cut out for him this time, in the face of an adversary who's bigger, stronger, fitter and has an army of drones at his command and a phalanx of corrupt officials at his back. This versus Wayne's gang, which, with the exception of earnest rookie cop Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), appears to consist of the cast a Hollywood remake of New Tricks: aged butler (Michael Caine), aged mad inventor (Morgan Freeman) and aged police commissioner (Gary Oldman, proving again, that he's not only the world's best over-actor, but the world's best under actor too).

As before, however, this is no black and white battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark: there are many shades of grey to contend with in the gamut characters we face, and your sympathies won't always lie with the 'good' guys.

But lest we forget, this is a cracking action movie too: the stunt sequences are jaw-dropping, accompanied by a string-snappingly forceful, Wagnerian score; the plot a dark web of gritty violence and intrigue. Yes, it takes itself far too seriously for a film about a hero with pointy ears, but there are occasional moments of humour – some intentional, others less so. (Yes, one character does actually say, 'Shoot 'em. Shoot 'em all.') But if it's that or a Batman suit with nipples and a bum zip, I'll take po-faced, husky-voiced Shakespearean intensity any day.

With a weight of expectation so crushingly huge it makes Bane look like the Biggest Loser, The Dark Knight Rises has a huge amount of hype to live up to. And while third time round it's hard to repeat the sense of gob-smacking awe inspired by the first two films, it certainly has a good try. If you see one blockbuster movie this summer, make it The Dark Knight Rises.

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