Christopher Nolan's third Batman film The Dark Knight Rises, which opens in cinemas on Friday, July 20, marks the end of his epic series. As the world prepares to wave farewell to the Caped Crusader, the filmmaker and stars Christian Bale, Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway reveal why this is the unforgettable conclusion.
By Shereen Low
The wait is over for Batman fans.
After four years of rumours, speculation and sneak peeks, one of the most highly-anticipated blockbusters is about to return to the big screen.
Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises is the follow-up to his previous two Batman offerings, 2005's Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, in 2008.
For the last time, Christian Bale is stepping back into the batsuit, alongside other returning cast members Sir Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman.
Sadly, not long after the last film wrapped, Heath Ledger, who played villain The Joker, died of a prescription drug overdose.
Nolan decided not to recast the role, and The Joker is not even going to be referenced in the film out of respect for Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for the role.
Instead there's a host of new faces joining the film, including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard.
The story begins eight years on from The Dark Knight. During that time, Batman has been keeping a low profile after the woman he loved (Rachel, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) was killed by the mafia, and being blamed for District Attorney Harvey Dent's death.
But now, he is forced out of hiding when a cunning cat burglar and a menacing masked terrorist arrive in town.
:: Christian Bale - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Welsh-born Bale reveals that we find the Caped Crusader a changed man.
"He has lost the one thing that gave him a purpose. Bruce feels absolutely isolated since the tragedy of losing Rachel," he says.
"His belief has been rocked, and that has caught up with him, physically and emotionally."
The 38-year-old actor, who won an Oscar last year for his role in The Fighter, had no qualms about the final farewell to his iconic alter-ego: "When Chris says it's time to say goodbye, it's time to say goodbye," he says.
The star of box office hits such as Empire Of The Sun, The Fighter and American Psycho has portrayed Batman in each of Nolan's films.
So he felt quite emotional when he changed out of his costume at the end of the shoot.
"It was very bittersweet when I took off the cowl for the last time, because it's meant so much to me to play this character," he admits.
"It never stopped giving me goosebumps to stand in that suit, because I recognise the honour of having portrayed this icon. And I can't help but feel immensely proud."
:: Tom Hardy - Bane
Hardy, who plays Batman's new arch-nemesis, was offered a role in The Dark Knight Rises after impressing Nolan on Inception - and said yes, despite being kept in the dark about his character.
"Chris wasn't sure I'd be interested because I'd have to wear a mask for several months. He wouldn't tell me anything else about the character, except that he was a very bad guy," he recalls.
"I said, 'Let me get this straight. You want me to come work with you, travel around the world, have a stunt team and all the weapons I could possibly want to play with, and all I have to do is wear a mask? I'm in!'"
Describing Bane, the English actor says: "He's a terrorist in both his mentality and his actions. He is physically intimidating and also very intelligent, which makes him even more dangerous."
The 34-year-old, who previously starred in Warrior and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, didn't even mind the vice-like metal mask, which Bane wears because of injuries he suffered years ago.
"I didn't feel limited by the mask. What's cool about it is, as soon as you put it on, you become the character. The first time I saw Christian in the make-up chair, I arrogantly thought to myself, 'I can handle him'," Hardy says.
"And then on the set, Batman showed up. It wasn't Christian Bale any more, he absolutely was Batman."
:: Anne Hathaway - Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Taking on the role previously played by Halle Berry and Michelle Pfeiffer is a nerve-wracking prospect, but Hathaway handled it like a pro.
"I was a little nervous coming in as the new kid on the block... But I actually found being the only person in the cast who hadn't worked with Chris before motivated me to work even harder," she says.
"This was my dream role. When I started off in The Princess Diaries, people kept asking me again and again, 'Did you grow up dreaming about being a princess?' And the truthful answer was, 'No, I want to be Catwoman'."
The actress recalls the first moment she slipped into the figure-hugging catsuit: "The first time I was in it, Christian was in the Batman suit and Tom came out as Bane, and I got a chill.
"I remember thinking, 'This is going to be extraordinary', and then because I'm neurotic, I thought, 'Or we're going to look like rejects from Hollywood Boulevard!'," she adds, laughing.
Hathaway admits she had to work-out for the role.
"It doesn't really hide much! If you had to wear a catsuit in front of the entire world, I guarantee you would get yourself to the gym."
The 29-year-old star of The Devil Wears Prada and Alice In Wonderland then had to do almost all of her own stunts - in impossibly high heels.
"The training was really hard but actually wound up being a lot of fun. I had an absolute blast. I saw it less as a challenge and more as an opportunity to go to a place I had never been required to go before," she says.
"I knew this was going to be some of the most exciting work I'd ever done and I was going to have the time of my life, but my expectations were far exceeded."
:: Christopher Nolan - Director
Nolan could be forgiven for wanting to bow out at the highest point with his third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.
The London-born filmmaker, who steps behind the cameras once again to direct, write and co-produce the latest instalment, believes it is the right time to bring the curtain down on the rebooted series.
"I've been working on Batman for almost ten years. It has been incredible and it has definitely been a journey. Now it's over and I leave it with a certain amount of sadness," he reveals.
Nolan says the third is most definitely worth the wait.
"We were all very excited to bring this tale full circle. That was our chief inspiration for returning to Gotham," he says.
"It has been an extremely gratifying experience. We are very proud of this ending, and we hope the audience shares our excitement."
Extra time - terrific trios
:: The Godfather - Al Pacino starred as ruthless Mafia boss Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's crime thrillers. Based on Mario Puzo's books, the series won nine Oscars throughout its run.
:: The Lord Of The Rings - Peter Jackson's epic big-screen adaptation of JRR Tolkien's fantasy novels, starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen, bagged 17 Oscars in total. The final film, 2003's The Return Of The King, took home all 11 Oscars it was nominated for.
:: Back To The Future - Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd star in Robert Zemeckis's time-travelling comedy franchise. The films, which only won one Oscar between them, have gained cult status and the first film, Back To The Future, made its mark in history as the highest grossing film of 1985.
:: The Matrix - Keanu Reeves's career got a super boost after he was cast as computer hacker Neo in this science fiction franchise.
:: Three Flavours Cornetto - Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz make up the first two films in the trilogy, directed by Edgar Wright, and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The third, The World's End, is on the way.
:: The Dark Knight Rises is released in cinemas on Friday, July 20