To the chagrin of the blogosphere, Nolan decided that Bane was to be the villain up against our hero of the night, and what an inspired choice this was. He wanted someone to match Christian Bale's size and strength, and Bane is as big and mean as they come, played with perfection by British actor Tom Hardy (who recently got to bulk up for some very physical performances in Bronson and Warrior). Although there was some very promising chatter on the blogosphere of Phillip Seymour-Hoffman as the Penguin, or Guy Pearce as the Riddler, Nolan would have perhaps struggled to avoid the anarchists overlapping with the Joker's antics, whereas with Bane we have a different specimen, more terrorist than anarchist, and also trained by the League of Shadows, so a terrifying foe for Batman. He is the villain to end all villains, and the fights between he and Batman are hugely engaging, sheer behemoths pounding the living daylights out of each other. This aggression between the two leads is the force that drives the film to the end, until the climactic final showdown between the heavyweights. Hardy gives Bane the formidable on-screen presence needed for the role, and he speaks with an educated sneer completely juxtaposing his ferocious appearance, displaying a fearsome intellect to match his size and power.
Alongside Bane we ask see Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, but never referred to as so), a cat burglar who crosses paths with Bruce Wayne and Batman. Her intentions remain ambiguous a lot of the time (and appear mostly selfish), and for fear of exposing anything spoilerific I'll leave the plot details there, but Jonah Nolan (scriptwriter brother of Chris) said that Hathaway was at risk of stealing the film, and he might just be right. She certainly has one of the best written characters, and she gets some of the best lines, although arguably Bane gets some gems as well 'when Gotham is in ashes, you have my permission to die'. Although we find out very little about her past, she was still a hugely satisfying character - a devilishly charming professional thief looking for a thrill - whereas Bane could have done with some more backstory because he is just so damn intriguing. He remains something of an enigma, and although some of his past comes out in a final reveal, and we hear snippets of conversation about him, his story is never really told; although we can be sure its as dark and sinister as they come, as we hear him proclaim that he was born in hell on earth and lived in darkness, never to see the light until an adult. When all the pieces come together at the end, the questions raised in the film are thankfully answered, but it'll be your own questions which'll have you reeling afterwards (I want Bane's full backstory from Nolan!!).
Christian Bale's performance as Wayne/Batman was at its strongest, nailing the psychomachia of Bruce Wayne and getting the gravelly Bat-voice just right (it was verging comical in a couple of the trilogy's previous scenes). This time round he also gets more gadgets from the franchise's Q equivalent, (Morgan Freeman as) Lucius Fox, who unveils the Bat plane known only as the Bat, along with some uber-cool power-cutting weaponry and even a small palm-sized gadget to kill all nearby electronic equipment seen being used on a load of paps trying to snap Bruce Wayne's entry to a charity ball - genius. Alongside Fox, we also have film regulars Michael Caine return as Albert the butler, now even more distressed at Bruce Wayne's impending fate, and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, as well as newcomers Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a board member and backer of Wayne Enterprises' sustainable energy project, and also Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a tough young cop with good intentions who gets hand-picked by Gordon to join forces (both the latter two must've impressed Nolan on the set of Inception). The acting chops on show are great, and so interesting to see in the performances of such caricatures from a comic book adaptation, albeit one which takes itself as serious as The Godfather. It must be said that Hathaway and Hardy are the standouts, and they certainly have the most interesting characters to play with.
Nolan has gone balls-out on his finale, and after the acclaim of the 'Heat of comic book movies' that was The Dark Knight, (the death of its star, an Oscar-winning performance, hitting the $1 billion mark) he had a big shadow to rise out of, and he did it with aplomb. For me, The Dark Knight Rises wasn't as good as The Dark Knight, where I preferred the script and lead villain, but it certainly demands a second viewing as it is such a rich fabric Nolan has weaved. TDKR is on a grander scale than the previous outings, with more explosions, more fights, more villains, bigger set pieces and more plot twists, making it, like it's principal villain, a tour de force to be reckoned with, and a satisfying close to Nolan's epic trilogy.