It's been long confirmed that Liam Neeson was going to appear in The Dark Knight Rises , we just didn't know it what capacity. Was he still alive? Would it be a flashback?
As it turned out, neither theory was correct. But, from a certain point of view, both were.
Ra's' line "There are many kinds of immortality." is a lovely one - it both nods to the the character's ability to cheat death in the comics and therefore, by proxy, the fan expectation of how he would reappear. Not only that, but it ties to Ghul's main message about the importance of becoming a legend.
Ghul is a legend to Bruce, he has life for as long as Bruce remembers him. And that will be a very long time, Ghul is a significant father figure, both to Bruce and to Batman.
His appearance feels like a flashback, even though his dialogue is entirely new. That's because it so closely resembles their first meeting, Neeson's even styled in the same way he was when he first appeared to Bruce, in another prison cell.
It's a great moment, not least because it's lovely to see Liam again.
Bane's musical appreciation
It's the moment that got the biggest laugh in the screening we were in, possibly because some people were straining to understand everything Bane said, but more probably because our audience appreciated the chutzpah of the Nolan brothers including a line that clearly referenced Bane's bonkers enunciation.
One thing's for sure, when Hardy commented on the skills of the Gotham Rogues' intro singer - "What a lovely, lovely voice," - the laughter that rang out in the theatre suggested that our audience heard every word.
Bruce visits Gordon in hospital
In the very first teaser trailer we saw Gordon in a hospital bed, talking to what sounded like Bruce Wayne, demanding Batman’s return.
It presented the first major mystery of the marketing campaign – why is Gordon asking Bruce Wayne to bring back Batman? How could he possibly know about their connection?
As it turns out, it’s another lovely Batman Begins call-back, with Bruce wearing a balaclava to disguise his identity – looking a lot like he did on his first night fighting Gotham’s criminals, before he designed the Bat-suit, when he first visited Gordon’s office.
He’s even positioned at a similar low angle, albeit in front of Gordon instead of behind.
There’s so many franchise references in TDKR , but this is particularly well-delivered.
Breaking The Bat
We should have always known it would happen. You don’t put Bane in a Batman film without including his most iconic contribution to the canon (well, you do if you’re Joel Schumacher, but that’s another story).
What’s so surprising about this key moment is that when it finally happens, it’s delivered almost casually – it’s over pretty much in an instant.
Bane raises Batman high in the air, before dropping him onto his thigh. And that’s it. There’s literally no dialogue about back-breaking – we don't even find out it's happened until much later on.
The fact there’s no grand speech (before or after), and certainly no "I can't feel my legs" moment, adds to the shock of the event, and solidifies Bane’s casual cruelty.
Bruce Wayne faces fear
When Bruce Wayne begins his final attempt to escape Bane’s prison without the safety of a rope to halt his fall, he does so because he believes his fear will save him – it will give him the extra edge required to make the final jump.
When he reaches the last level, before he attempts the leap he’s failed several times, a cloud of bats seem to appear out of the walls.
On first watch, it feels like a coincidence. But, reflecting on the moment afterwards, we wonder if it’s the product of Bruce’s imagination – part of the process of him facing his fear.
We can’t wait to watch it again, to decide whether it’s real or a hallucination.
It's the last shot of the film. John Blake has sought out the Batcave deep underneath the Thomas & Martha Wayne Children's Home.
He's standing at the precipice of a fresh challenge, as the new guardian of Gotham City.
Suddenly, a platform shudders into life, and he begins his ascent.
The Dark Knight Rises , indeed.
Batman confesses to Gordon
Before Batman makes his supreme sacrifice, Gordon cries out that the people of Gotham should know the identity of the man who saved them.
Batman replies, “I’m no more of a hero than the man who wrapped a coat around a young boy, to show him the world hadn't ended.”
(That might not be verbatim, we’re recounting from memory – and we’re welling up a bit as we write it)
We cut to the relevant flashback from Batman Begins , and Gordon staggers backwards, a look of slow realisation on his face. “Bruce Wayne?” he says.
It’s a moment that both references Batman Begins (directly with the flashback), and mirrors it – it’s the same method Bruce used to tell Rachel his secret identity.
Robin John Blake
This brief scene is part of a wave of wonderful moments that make up the last 10 minutes of the film.
By this point, John Blake has long proven himself to be both decent and tough.
He has fought alongside Batman – even being directly taught by him at one point – and, by the mere strength of his actions, become one of the most likeable characters Christopher Nolan has ever put on screen.
He’s noble, strong, kind, and extremely intelligent – he deduced Batman’s identity without half the clues Lucius Fox had. Every hero who meets him, admires him.
And, guess what? He’s Nolan’s Robin.
When Blake is handed his identification back by an administrator, she tells him that he should use his full name. “It’s a nice name, you should use it… Robin.”
We’ve argued in the past that the Batman mythos isn’t complete without Robin , but we conceded that it would be extremely difficult to reboot the character following Schumacher’s disastrous interpretation.
Well, Nolan’s achieved the near-impossible – and it’s a gift to any filmmaker that follows him.
There isn’t a single fan who’ll leave The Dark Knight Rises without a deep respect for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, which means, by implication, Robin is one of the most respected characters in the film. We never expected to be writing those words.
Of all the fan-pleasing bits in The Dark Knight Rises , this is by far the best.
The fact that it's such an unexpected surprise adds to the intense feeling of giddy joy when it's revealed. Nolan the magician strikes again.
We didn't realise it, but we'd already seen elements of Batman's death in those early trailers. One shot in particular, the awed reaction of the kids in the bus, was edited very cleverly to look like it was caused by the bridge collapse.
But no, those kids were witnessing Gotham's dark knight embark on the single greatest act of heroism the city has ever known.
We particularly liked the one kid's reaction when he first arrives: "It's Batman."
Up until this point, every citizen has referred to him as 'The Batman' - so the child's simpler version makes the moment more personal somehow.
When the moment happens, and The Bat explodes in the distance, we're hit with emotions so powerful they feel like an aftershock.
That is, until the final coda. The Batman is dead. Long live Bruce Wayne.
If you've somehow landed on this page by accident, the following is a massive spoiler. Please don't read on if you haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises.
Brilliantly, beautifully, Christopher Nolan has given each member of the army of fans who have followed his Batman saga their own individual perfect ending.
That's because everyone is able to interpret it in their own way.
The debate amongst fans as to whether Alfred truly saw Bruce sitting in that cafe in Italy, or whether it was his imagination, has already begun.
The believers point to the presence of Selina Kyle, and ask why Alfred would imagine her there when he had so little interaction with her. The non-believers point out that Selina's spent the entire film in black, and the blue linen outfit means she's clearly a construction.
The believers point out the auto-pilot foreshadowing and resolution. That silences the non-believers momentarily, before they argue that the film is full of hallucinations, both definite - Ra's al Ghul in the prison cell - and debatable - the bats flying out of the pit walls - so why wouldn't it end on one?
Nolan's 'choose your own' approach to film finales was first seen in Inception, but here it provides even greater catharsis.
Some people wish the film had cut to black on Alfred's expression, to heighten the mystery. We're glad it didn't, because as far as we're concerned, Bruce Wayne is alive.
The reason Selina is there is she was associated with the Clean Slate device, a device that Carmine Falcone's 'Prince Of Gotham' would definitely need to begin again. She's wearing the linen outfit because black would be a bit hot in the Mediterranean climate. And more than that, the costume change is symbolic of her desire to leave her past behind.
As for the hallucinations, they were experienced by one character - Bruce. And they happened when he was at his lowest point, both physically and mentally. Alfred is grieving, but a man who still has enough hope to make his yearly trip to Italy is not a man broken enough to experience visions. Especially not one who has operated as the voice of sanity throughout the trilogy.
But that's just our opinion, whichever way you look at it, Nolan has given this saga a happy ending. We couldn't have asked for more, really.