Tag Archive: Tom Hardy


With most of the major Awards ceremonies out of the way, it would be fair to say that the Best Picture Oscar race has been boiled down to three films; The Revenant, The Big Short and Spotlight. As they stand, The Revenant is the favourite for glory on Oscar night, what with numerous Best Director awards and the Globe and BAFTA for Best Picture under its fur coat. Yet, one cannot over-rule the possibility of either Spotlight or The Big Short coming out on top, what with the films sharing screenplay awards on both sides of the pond (Spotlight for Original, Big Short for Adapted), and Spotlight winning the SAG Award and The Big Short claiming that all important Producer’s Guild of America Award for Best Picture along the way. With the competition at boiling point, now is as good as any to share with you my thoughts on the three films as I once again attempt to catch up with my frivolous viewing. 

RevenantThe Revenant (Dir: Alejandro G. Inarritu)  

Say what you want about the films of Alejandro G. Inarritu, you cannot deny his immeasurable work ethic. The Revenant arrives exactly a year after his previous Best Picture winner Birdman, and it is nothing short of amazing to see what he has managed to produce within that short turn around. Shooting entirely on location, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki once again only using natural lighting, The Revenant is a beautiful film in a very pure and primal manner, a film which drags you through the mud, makes you feel the cold, as well as sends you reeling in the face of an attack from one pissed off Grizzly Bear.

Frontiersman Hugo Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is leading a group of hunters through uncharted and dangerous territory in 1823, when he is attacked by a Grizzly Bear and left with terrible injuries. When placed in the care of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass witnesses the murder of his son at the hands of unhinged Fitzgerald, who proceeds to bury Glass alive, leaving him for dead. However, there is still life in the resourceful frontiersman, as he claws his way out of his untimely grave and sets on a path of survival and revenge.

The Revenant is very much a Western, despite begin shrouded in ice and snow, as well as taking place mainly on what is the East coast of the United States. Its placement within Anerican history and the conflict with the Natives very much colours it as a Western, but it is very much concerned with operating on a different, more mythical level for the frontiersman of American history. Hugo Glass is a figure who has slipped into folklore and legend, with Inarittu establishing and maintaining a very ethereal atmosphere as we witness Glass’ mission of revenge. The vistas look stunning, and Inarittu is constantly capable of producing startling imagery, giving an account that feels both very real and fantastical.

While nothing occurs in a great hurry, emphasising the perseverance of Glass’ struggle,Revenant-2 much of what captivates ones gaze is the commitment of not only DiCaprio , but of all involved both in front of and behind the camera. The elements are as much a character,
offering Glass safety and challenges, in much the same dynamic as one can imagine the crew faced on set. It is the commitment by all that truly leaves a mark, rather than the admittedly thematically thin plot.

The Revenant‘s languishing pace and lack of speechifying classes it as perhaps the strangest Best Picture front-runner for quite some time. It is a primal film determined to brace the wind and lay down an American myth in a manner as uncompromising as the elements faced by those that made it. It may prove difficult for some to embrace, but what has been delivered is a unique sensory experience, if nothing much more. 4/5 

BigShortThe Big Short (Dir: Adam McKay)

Adam McKay has always been a director that has shown the potential to be more than just an individual who pumps out Will Ferrell comedy vehicles. Each of his films has always been shot with a clear and crisp eye, while he has also demonstrated a brilliant hand with actors and multiple big name stars. The film which demonstrated most of this potential is arguably The Other Guys, a film which operates as both a very funny Ferrell comedy and an energetic action movie. What makes it more interesting though is how it operates as a pre-cursor to The Big Short, McKay’s first ‘serious’ picture, as one may remember, The Other Guys delivered well explained material concerning embezzlement and the banking crisis only two years after the 2008 Crash. With The Big Short, McKay has a bigger canvas in which to express his concerns and anger with the banking system, adapting Michael Lewis’ text of the same name, and he delivers an accessible, riotous depiction of the events leading to the Crash in an attempt to unravel what the fuck happened.

McKay and Charles Randolph’s script focuses on three different individuals/groups of men who first discovered that something was amiss within the U.S. housing market. The first to discover a fishy smell; Michael Burry (Christian Bale) an eccentric hedge fund manger who chose to bet against the housing market as early as 2005, despite protestations from his fellow shareholders. His discovery soon worked its way down the line, with Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) validating Burry’s predictions concerning a collapse in the U.S. Housing Market. Once Vennett lets Hedge Fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team in on the secret, it soon becomes clear that it is not just the U.S. housing market that is extremely unstable, but the entire world economy.

The Big Short is at its best when it operates as almost a docu-drama, as we follow different strands of individuals involved in unravelling the shit-storm that sent the world economy reeling in 2008. We are led through the film predominantly  by Gosling’s Vennett (Gosling essentially playing Jordan Belfort) in a somewhat inconsistent voice-over. None the less, the presence of Gosling’s voice-over and breaks in the fourth wall (stylised with  numerous cut-aways populated with celebrity cameos to explain terms such as Collaterized Debt Obligations) firmly position the viewer as the most important character in the proceedings, as the film aims to achieve an understanding for all of us that have been affected by the crash yet may not fully understand exactly what happened. It makes the film a kinetic affair, one that delivers exposition in more refreshing ways than most films, while still maintaining a strong sense of momentum.

What The Big Short struggles to shake off is a sense of smugness. McKay’s stylings do certainly provide the film with numerous moments of hilarity, but the cut-away’s do, at times, grate, particularly when certain concepts have been explained  coherently enough without the use of a celebrity cameo and/or extended metaphor. The elements which both provide the film with great moments of humour and show a certain measured level of design also threaten to feel condescending rather than informativeBigShort1.

The film also asks a lot from its audience in terms of empathy, as we are expected to engage with individuals who figured out what was happening to the Global Economy yet set out to save their own backs, rather than sound the alarm bells. McKay seems aware of this, and particularly addresses his concern through Carell as Mark Baum. Carell is on particularly fine form here, standing as the man who is most at odds with the weight of the information he holds. Yet, divergences in to his personal life and unresolved family traumas feel far too at odds with the self-aware stylings that mostly colour the picture , meaning many of Carell’s scenes simply do not feel cohesive  with the rest of the film.

Ultimately, what The Big Short is more successful at is in delivering the facts of the economic situation which led to the crash of 2008 in a fashion that will make it clearer for many of those in the dark. Its satirical approach makes that bitter pill a little easier to swallow, yet keeps the severity and destructive nature of the greed of  bankers very much at its forefront, leaving a very cold yet important message with its audience once the credits begin to roll; Bankers are Dicks. 3/5 

Spotlight

Spotlight (Dir: Tom McCarthy)

One of the more mature pictures amongst this year’s nominees has come from an unlikely individual, namely the director of Adam Sandler’s The Cobbler. Taking a focus on the team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe who exposed numerous cases of child molestation committed by a number of Priests, McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer throw us into the world of investigative journalism like no other film before it. Yes, even All the President’s Men. 

Spotlight is a film of incredible restraint as it aims to depict the unravelling of the controversy at its centre in a very realistic and by-the-facts fashion. It colours the proceedings as very procedural, and for the first half hour or so, this is a little grating. But it is all for a purpose. Once the weight of the situation begins to bare upon the characters involved, we ourselves realise how implicit we have become in the investigation and how much we ourselves also feel a sense of responsibility for the events that have unfolded.

The players of Spotlight are demonstrated as folks eager to see important news delivered in the most detailed and astute way possible, but once more and more details become unveiled to us, it soon becomes clear that no one here is entirely without blame. Moments of the past have passed these reporters by, moments which provided opportunities in which they could have uncovered such a scandal earlier. This feels like the real world, one where everyone is guilty of something, despite their best intentions.

Spotlight arguably lauds the best cast of this awards season (hence why it will more than likely be getting a lot of the Academy Actor’s votes) and McCarthy has made sure he has populated his film with character actors who are incredibly dependable and believable in such a real world dramatisation. Michael Keaton follows his incendiary performance in Birdman with a tun that is poised and driven, as well as sporting a well tuned Boston accent. Rachel McAdams is given a strong and layered character, one who is often under-served in a film lacking in much focus on female roles.Spotlight1

Much of the weight of the material falls with Mark Ruffalo, who provides the most ‘Oscar-baiting’ performance of the cast. He is at turns naturalistic, showcasing a range of character ticks that help form a truce account of his character, yet he is also given the more dramatic monologues, which often feel at odds with the more sombre and reserved tone that it mostly exudes.

Spotlight stands as the film that I perceive has the most chance of snapping up Best Picture in the face of The Revenant‘s momentum. It is simply the sort of film the Academy seems to enjoy; a sort-of but not too timely topic, a respected cast, mature sensibilities, and little in the way of fast edited action. It is a fine drama and an excellent demonstration of a script and a director working with an amazing amount of patience and restraint. 4/5 

This marks the last round-up post until I can get back into the jive of solo-outing reviews. This edition takes a look at some of the flicks I managed to catch over the course of September. These early Autumn months are usually responsible for some of the more surprising entries of the year, often delivering some of the year’s best. While a couple of these particular films fell a little short of expectations, there is still enough strength to demonstrate how surprising and fresh these closing months always turn out to be. 

Me&Earl&DyingGirl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)

I am a sucker for Indie coming-of-age flicks, no matter how quirky they get. If the story has strong, relate-able characters, and an approach I find interesting, I’m there. This year, the stand-out feature for this sub-genre has to be without a doubt Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a Sundance favourite which only the harshest of critics would degrade.

The film follows Greg (Thomas Munn), a High School Senior about to enter his final year of a carefully manoeuvred High School experience. He has never attached himself to one group, constantly remaining on the outskirts, being pleasant enough and never doing anything to rub any one the wrong way. In his spare time, he remakes his favourite films with parodic titles with his ‘co-worker’ Earl (RJ Cyler), all the while avoiding making decisions about his imminent graduate future. Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a girl in Greg’s year, is diagnosed with Leukaemia, leading to Greg’s mum forcing him to hang out with her. What starts out as a begrudging task soon develops into a burgeoning friendship, one which life changing consequences for both Greg and Rachel.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, making his directorial début following working as an AD for the likes of Scorsese and Inarritu, channels that cinematic knowledge knowingly into both Greg and Earl’s lovingly made oeuvre of titles which include th likes of A Sockwork Orange, The Rad Shoes, and 2:38pm Cowboy. His camera-work is sharp and agile, moving with a calculation not unlike that of Wes Anderson, but also one which knows when to stay static and let performances provide the kinetic-ism and focus within certain key scenes. The film is small scale, only really operating out of three to four main locations, but Gomz-Rejon gives the proceedings buzz and energy that allows the film to have a strong sense of momentum.

The film is also a delight in regards to the performances from its young cast. Munn and Cooke have an easy-going chemistry that is pivotal to the emotional rendering of the central relationship. Cooke’s understatement in particular is particularly affecting, allowing Rachel to have a holding on the film, even when she’s not on screen. RJ Cyler is a point of calm amongst the emotional storm, and provides a truly memorable performance. The adult cast is also on fine form, with a zen Nick Offerman once again being a highlight (that’s just how Swanson rolls).

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a cancer movie for those that hated The Fault in Our Stars; its cynical bent is much more refreshing, its characters that much more genuine, and the experience all that more emotionally devastating and enriching. It is oh so very quirky, but an utter delight that is very difficult not to fall for. 4/5  

Legend

 Legend (Dir: Brian Helgeland)

The story of the notorious Kray Twins, identical twins who were the most high profile gangsters in 1960s East London, is one in which many people have commented on and calimed to be an authority on; anyone who was around in East London at the time had their own story about the Krays. They occupy a unique position in British history due to how they operated, mingling with fellow gangster types and A-list celebrities, but both were very much dangerous men. This take on the iconography of the twins cast Tom Hardy as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, Reggie being the calmer, smoother of the pair, with Ronnie the more erratic and mentally unhinged of the pairing. It is a platform which allows Hardy to craft two very distinct personalities, but one which also leaves one wanting for a definitive text on the Kings of the East End.

Brian Helgeland, the writer behind LA Confidential and Mystic River, frames his story through the perspective of Francis (Emily Browning), Reggie’s ill-fated wife, telling the tale from beyond the grave as she charts her experience in the world of the Kray Twins. It is an inconsistent perspective, with a coming and going voice-over reminding us of her presence, without truly establishing her as a character as worthy of our sympathy. Helgeland’s script is riddled with genre cliches such as this, all which become very clear in the latter half of the movie. After a blistering and hugely enjoyable first hour, the film becomes very pedestrian in its pacing, as it goes along ticking the boxes of the Kray’s history.

The USP of this film is seeing Hardy as both Reggie and Ronnie, and it does not disappoint. Hardy has become of our modern day screen actors who nearly completely disappears behind his roles, and in his one-two jab as Reg and Ron, he manages to craft two very distinct personalities from very cliched characterisations. Ron is coloured too much as a wide-eyed psychopath, while Reg feels like an audition for James Bond at times, but Hardy brings wonderful quirks and movement to both characters, as well as a respective voice, which concocts chemistry between the two (or himself if you will).

Legend comes across as a cartoon history of The Krays. It is ultra glossy, set to a cool era appropriate soundtrack, and has punch ups and shoot outs that pack a visceral punch but neither entirely seem all that rooted in reality. It is interesting enough to hold your attention, mainly due to the work of Hardy, but one which never feels quite complete enough to work as a worthy account of the history of the Twins. 3/5 

 EverestEverest (Dir: Baltasar Kormakur)

Everest depicts the ill-fated events of a climb in 1996 led by two commercial climbing  organisations known as Adventure Consultants, run by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Mountain Madness, run by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). The two groups, working together, were left scattered on the fabled mountain following a storm, claiming many lives of the paying customers on the mountain. This account of the events benefits from some strong performances and impressive vistas, but nothing ever quite lands as successfully as it wants, leading to a disaster flick that peddles too much on clichés and wastes talented actors in order to wean an emotional response.

The main problem with Everest, as was the case with the real-life event, there are just too many characters for you to keep a track of or to have all that much of an investment in. The script benefits from positioning the figure of Rob Hall as the lead, as it allows Jason Clarke to exhibit his dependable leading man skills. His story works and provides the most tragic arc, despite a rather cringe-worthy performance from Keira Knightley as the helpless wife at home.

The build-up to the climb, the calm before the storm, is when the film is at its strongest. Relying a lot of on-location shooting, the film positively looks stunning. The vistas on display of Nepal are gorgeous and provide the film with the necessary scope to impress. The 3-D visuals throughout remain impressive, it’s just at times it feels a little obvious what was shot on a sound-stage and what remains on location.

When characters start to succumb to their respective fates, the film does feel devastating, if only because so much death so quickly after a long build up. The cut backs to base camp don’t resonate as they should, in part due to a pretty poor performance from Emily Watson, struggling with her Kiwi accent. Most of these moments are once again enforced by Clarke’s performance, having carefully built-up Rob as a trusty worthy hero.

Everest feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. It features a talented cast, but reduces the likes of Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright to very small and clichéd roles, while it also feels a little cheap at times within moments of devastation. Some of it is affecting, but it never quite captures your attention in an effective manner. For a better account of a mountain-based disaster, you’d be better served by Kevin MacDonald’s Touching the Void. If only because it has a soundtrack featuring Boney M. 2/5  

Life (Dir: Anton Corbijn)LifePoster

 The iconography of James Dean is ingrained in Hollywood history in a very unique way. Dean only starred in three movies before his untimely death at the age of 24 following a street-race gone awry. Dean is still discussed with a great deal of passion, and we never seem to stop learning about his life and the person he truly was. With this in mind, Life takes a very interesting perspective, following Dean’s (here played by Dane DeHaan) relationship with photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) the man responsible for Dean’s famous photo-shoot in ‘Life’ magazine in 1955, on the eve of the release of East of Eden, with Dean eagerly awaiting news on whether or not he had been cast in Rebel Without a Cause. It allows for an intimate look at both men, and while the film may not emotionally resonate as strongly as it would like, it is still a fascinating look at the icon of James Dean at the turning point in his career.

DeHaan as Dean initially seems a little too awkward and somewhat mumbly to truly convince as Dean, but something occurs along the course of the film, he becomes James Dean. It is a fascinating performance to watch form, as DeHaan becomes more confident as Dean becomes a more relate-able figure. He cuts the right profile and presents Dean as a sweet young man, very much a free spirit, eager to achieve success, but not necessarily the fame that comes with it. DeHaan’s own process with the role adds an element to the character that allows the portrayal to be something worth discussing within the discourse on the iconography of James Dean.

The better performance though arguably comes from Pattinson as Dennis. With knowing little about Dennis, it is up to Pattinson to deliver him as a genuine individual, and he does so through displaying a nervous yet ferocious need to succeed. He pursues Dean vehemently, while he lets his relationship with his young son fall by the way-side in favour of his career. These moments are quietly devastating, as there is clearly little connection between Stock and his son, yet a captivating relationship with Dean. Seeing the two together is when the film rides high, despite some pacing issues (the trip to Indiana, while the more intimate moments, pull the film down to a snail’s pace).

Anton Corbijn, the director of the excellent Control, comes from the photography background himself, having photographed the likes of Joy Division and U2 over the years. Therefore, he is a director who knows a thing or two about iconography and framing, meaning that pretty much every shot of Life is absolutely beautiful. Very point of framing feels carefully designed, with a keen interest in composition and lighting that marks Life as one of the most simply beautiful films of the year.

Life struggles to find a fitting place to conclude, and has too many moments of obvious reflection that undermine the subtleties of the rest of the film. It is a shame, but it does not hamper the experience of seeing these two performances cooperate with each other within a beautifully designed and controlled frame. A must for any Dean fans, if only to have a say on DeHaan’s portrayal, and feel as though you get a chance to hang out with the icon in a new form. 4/5

MadMax-1How do you bring back a franchise that has laid dormant for 30 years? While reboots are plentiful in Hollywoodland, none have been quite in the same position as one Max Rockatansky. Developed on a shoe-string budget, the original Mad Max came with a unique edge, but was a film that was very limited by its budget. It wasn’t until the sequel, known as The Road Warrior in the States, that George Miller managed to truly bring his vision to thunderous, bona-fide classic, life. The effect was somewhat diminished with Beyond the Thunderdome, a film which seemed more designed by Hollywood executives than it did Miller himself. Since then, a fourth instalment has been stuck in development hell, spluttering to a halt at numerous road bumps. Now, finally, we are back in the Wastelands, with a brand new Max and a new group of supporting characters. So, how do you bring back a dormant 30 year franchise? You take everything that made your best instalment a classic, and turn it up to 11.

Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself at the mercy of a gang of crazies led by the formidable Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), whose followers, the War Boys, look to as a God. Max soon finds a way out through aligning himself with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) a hardened rig-driver who betrays Immortan Joe in order to lead his Wives to freedom. What ensues is an intense War on a barren trail in the Wastelands, a War which forces wandering loner Max to fight for a righteous cause once again.  MadMax-2

The Mad Max franchise is not one that has ever been all that concerned with chronology, very much exemplified by Miller’s own non-committal reposenses when asked if Fury Road is more a sequel or a reboot. He has said it is neither, and it’s hard to argue, as one can easily spot references which place this film in the franchise, yet it does well to stand on its own and reintroduce audiences to the volatile future-scape that Max inhabits. The references never take centre stage, and are very carefully placed for fans to spot, allowing for fan enjoyment without alienating the uninitiated.

Mad Max 2 is rightfully regarded as one of the best sequels of all time, largely because of how much it expands the scale of the dystopia, and how well the practical stunts are executed. With this in mind, Miller has made sure to use the 30 year gap wisely, populating Fury Road with vehicular stunts that are simply mind blowing and breath-taking to behold. The last time audiences have seen carnage on this scale, real carnage, was The Road Warrior, and Miller makes sure that Fury Road rises above expectations to deliver high octane thrills that can only be fully appreciated on the big screen. This is pure action cinema that is made to amaze, yet one which refuses to have scenes bogged down with pointless exposition. This is lean, mean, foot to the floor action, and all the better for it.

MadMax-3Much has been made on the strong feminist stance that Miller exudes through the characters of Furiosa and the Wives. He creates some brilliantly bad-ass female characters who are striving to have agency in a Wasteland which still falls under a warped patriarchy. It gives this instalment a unique twist, and further allows for the world of Mad Max to appear more complex, and more populated by strong and interesting individuals. Miller always took a special interest in the background characters in the previous instalments, making the world feel richer, creating a mythology that is open to explore and feels lived-in. Fury Road loses none of that attention to detail, and in fact packs these characters with even more touches and details that bring these individuals to fuller life, suggesting a history that extends far beyond the frame of the screen.

The re-casting of Max was perhaps inevitable, and Tom Hardy surely stands as the best possible replacement for a role once held by the intimidating mould of Mel Gibson. Hardy’s Max remains a man of few words but powerful action, seemingly only concerned with his self-preservation, but who ultimately becomes the hero, as it is his nature to help people in need. Survival is Max’s mission, but he is a good guy to have on your side in a world crawling with evil and lunatics. Max’s dynamic with Furiosa provides the film with a surprising amount of narrative heft, with the kindred spirits aiding each other with their respective strengths, be it Max’s resilience, or Furiosa’s hawkeye aim. Theron also provides a tough-as-nails performance, and is key to Furiosa’s successful characterisation. MadMax-4

I would say there has never been anything like Fury Road, but it skews quite closely to The Road Warrior in terms of structure, so saying such a thing wouldn’t entirely be true. But the scale and the imagination on screen is certainly unique, as the carnage seems archaic but is so carefully constructed, framed, and executed that it can only be the work of one hell of a maestro. Miller directs with the verve and the energy of a young director trying to prove something, yet the feeling here is that he is more concerned with putting everything he has ever wanted for Max up on the screen, possibly concerned with the fact that he may never get an opportunity to do so again. Every cent of the $150 million budget is on screen to be appreciated, and the welcome reception means that we could yet see more adventures of Max. Until then though, this is one of the finest action movies of the 21st Century, a testament to artistic perseverance, careful planning, and gloriously insane imagination. Max is back, and you don’t wanna miss him.

5/5- Efficient, exciting, empowering and exhilarating; Fury Road is an exemplary action flick brimming with thrills and an insane amount of imagination.

 

Greetings all! Mr. Gaudion here, but only briefly. As you are well aware, while I am at home in Alderney I am not able to catch the latest releases, which irritates me somewhat, but I can live with it. But one friend, a Mr. Greg Falla, gave me the idea to allow my friends to do guest reviews for films that I perhaps will not be able to see for quite sometime. I should have a review by Mr. Falla arriving in the near future, but for now I’ve got you an extra special treat; the first guest review by my great friend Michael Perry for The Dark Knight Rises! It is an excellent read, displaying Mike’s witty and sophisticated writing style, and I hope that this is the first of many guest reviews from him, and perhaps many other people. Should you wish to write a guest review, feel free to get in touch with me via Facebook or this here blog. But now, without further ado, here is Mike’s verdict on Christopher Nolan’s Bat-finale! Thanks again Mike!

One of the hundreds of online fan-made posters for The Dark Knight Rises summarises Christopher Nolan’s Batman cycle in three phases: begins, falls, rises.  After the gothic noir of the origin story (Batman Begins) and the chaotic crime epic (The Dark Knight), Nolan has set both the Caped Crusader and himself a pretty hefty challenge to rise to for the final lighting of the Bat-signal.  Rarely has a film had this level of anticipation fastened to it: in the wake of a towering sequel which broke the boundaries of what comic-book films could achieve, the hype and expectation burdened upon The Dark Knight Rises was enough to leave cinemagoers buzzing with countless anxious questions.  Will it tarnish this otherwise-perfect series?  Will it be too overcrowded?  Will Catwoman fit into this world?  Will it be better than The Dark Knight?

But at last, it has finally been released, and the story of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is done.  And audiences everywhere can breathe a collective sigh of relief: it’s a blistering, thrilling, glorious conclusion to a much-loved series.  Nolan has been slowly honing in on a masterful filmmaking formula over the last few years, and The Dark Knight Rises is yet another gem to add to his already-gleaming catalogue.  With his directing skills stronger than ever (action sequences are now much clearer and crisper than the dizzying fights of Batman Begins) and with a head-spinning array of ideas and possibilities corralled into a cohesive, intelligent thrill-ride (big props to Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer), Nolan bows out of Gotham on a high note.

If you don’t mind (and you probably won’t at this late stage), I’ll try and leave out exposition and lengthy synopses, because I think everyone’s tired of re-reading the story so far after countless other reviews, articles and the like.  Besides, it’s now August 2012, so only those dwelling under rocks will be unfamiliar with Batman’s arc.  Suffice to say, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) isn’t in the best shape, and nor is Gotham once the masked terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) rolls into town, intent on bringing the city to its knees.

As with most finales, the scope has been widened, the stakes raised, and the scale enlarged to end proceedings with a bang.  The team have returned with a story which picks up where The Dark Knight left off, and several threads from the previous films have been consolidated, lengthened, and neatly tied up.  Bale is definitely centre-stage this time around, as Wayne’s story is brought full circle.  The film does a great job of exploring the tortured psyche of the tragedy-stricken hero, with both sides of his character investigated.  Bale’s performance here is his strongest in the series, as he invests Wayne with a poignant vulnerability as he undergoes his most exhausting journey yet.  It’s a real tightrope act, with Bale just about managing to remain the central focus of the film, even with such a strong supporting cast and while facing off against such a monstrous adversary.

The rub with playing the villain in this film is that expectations have been raised to skyscraping levels after Heath Ledger’s masterful turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight.  Tom Hardy was always going to have a mighty shadow to try and escape from, but a number of critics have dismissed his Bane – muscular, logical and ruthless – as disappointing in the wake of Ledger’s anarchic, cackling clown.  But this is ridiculously unfair.  Both villains are separate creations with different character traits, methods and backgrounds (both in the film universe and in the comics), and should be treated as such.  Comparing one to the other is kind of ludicrous, especially since within their own roles, both actors deliver to the best possible standard.  Yes, Heath Ledger was a truly exceptional actor.  But then, so is Tom Hardy, and the Bane of this universe is absolutely terrifying.  Working from behind that creepy (but cumbersome) mask, Hardy pulls off a fantastic feat with simply his eyes, body language and that voice: an unsettling, croaky tone which bubbles over with confidence and malice.  And yes, it’s understandable!  Okay, there are times when a line or two is indecipherable (I’d argue that the placing of Hans Zimmer’s otherwise-wonderful score slightly too high in the mix plays some part in that), but for the most part, Bane’s voice reverberates with a booming menace.

And he’s surprisingly charismatic, too.  One of the film’s best scenes focuses on a furious tirade from Bane as he stands astride a familiar-looking vehicle, making his plans clear as he raises his own army in the battle for Gotham.  Even behind the mask, the anger, disgust and traces of a sick, facetious pleasure punctuate every syllable and gesticulation.  And in the fight scenes, too, he is as intimidating as he looks.  There is one moment in particular when Bane completely lets loose in a rapid-fire flurry of fists, and it’s a truly horrifying sight as the behemoth smashes through concrete and more while snarling like a wild animal.  This time around, you genuinely fear for the people of Gotham, and for Batman in particular: as comic-book fans would put it, Bruce Wayne should watch his back.

As for Anne Hathaway, let’s just say that all those who balked at the thought of her portraying Selina Kyle are probably wiping egg from their collective faces right now.  And yes, I was among those naysayers.  But stab me with a sharpened heel, Hathaway’s performance is absolutely wonderful, with her character (the title ‘Catwoman’ isn’t actually used once during this film) capable of holding her own against the big, brutal boys of Nolan’s Bat-verse.  She lands in this world on two nimble feet, bringing with her several crucial ingredients for this incarnation of the ambiguous Kyle: humanity and humour.  The final creation is a cat burglar who feels authentic and believable.

She almost steals the show, but not quite.  Everyone is given time to shine here: Gary Oldman remains pitch-perfect as the weary-but-resolute Commissioner Gordon; Morgan Freeman enjoys an expanded role as Lucius Fox (more integral than he’s ever been in this saga); and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets to sink his teeth into one hell of a role as the young, idealistic cop John Blake, who has a character arc so juicy that one almost forgets that he’s only just been introduced into the series.

Of course, what with this being the final episode of the trilogy and all, emotions run high.  Anyone who argues that Nolan can’t hit viewers where it hurts (the tear ducts) might want to reconsider their arguments: there were about half-a-dozen moments in the film where things got more than a little misty for me.  A good number of those belong to Michael Caine, who pulls on the heartstrings something awful on at least four occasions, most achingly so early on, when Alfred recalls his saddened trips to a particular café.  And some pretty dark depths are plumbed in the story, with Bruce Wayne reduced to his lowest ebb and Gotham precariously positioned in the hands of a seemingly indestructible, tactical enemy.  Unlike the breezy (but no-less brilliant) Avengers Assemble and the competent-but-underwhelming Amazing Spider-Man, here you get the impression that things really could go catastrophically wrong.  Gotham might just be reduced to ashes after all.

But it’s not all tears and fears: as with its predecessors, The Dark Knight Rises never loses the light completely, with witty barbs and dry quips sprinkled throughout the darkness, most of them courtesy of Hathaway, who can spark one-liners as deftly as Kieran Culkin’s Wallace from Scott Pilgrim.  And thankfully, the light touches of comedy never overbalance the tone, seldom spoiling the mood or flow of the scenes they accompany.

This is crucial, because as with the previous films, the emphasis is firmly on making this realistic, and everything feels organic to the tone of the trilogy, while also feeling relevant to modern climates: economic collapse, terrorism and fears of impending apocalypse all inform the film’s action.  It also helps that Nolan isn’t that keen on CGI, and as a result, the special effects are never short of breathtaking, lending the action sequences a real sense of high-stakes urgency rivalled by few other blockbusters.  Football stadiums erupt, bridges crumple and huge-scale chase sequences are orchestrated, with the latter moments seeing Batman piloting a high-tech (and pretty freaking cool) new toy from Fox’s funhouse.

Perhaps inevitably, there are flaws.  There are a fair number of plot-holes which have the potential to nag away at you for a while, and personally, I would’ve liked to have seen further exploration and characterisation of Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Peter Foley (Matthew Modine), whose stories are engaging, but feel lacking in places.  But then, with the film already spanning a bum-breaking one-hundred-and-sixty-five minutes, it’s understandable that some of the finer points have been left aside.

So no, it’s not quite perfect.  But let’s leave it to the forum fanboys to make mountains out of these molehills.  The bottom line is this: I haven’t seen a film as exciting as this in quite some time.  With outstanding performances all around, some genuinely heart-racing action sequences and a potent emotional punch, Nolan has concluded his trilogy in true style.  Have no fear Mr. Gaudion – it’s the finale Batman deserves.

5/5- As Andrew himself wrote when summing up Avengers Assemble: “there are faults to be had, but the sheer entertainment value of this movie over-rides them all”.  True again here: The Dark Knight Rises is a triumphant rollercoaster ride which ties the trilogy together in a hugely satisfying finale.