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Saturday 17 February 2018

A very long Dark Knight of the soul

Paul Whitington

film of the week

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (12A, general release, 165 minutes)

Director: Christopher Nolan Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard

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A very long Dark Knight of the soul

Apparently Christopher Nolan seriously considered throwing his hat at the Batman franchise after finishing The Dark Knight, and one can definitely see his point, because that movie felt like the end of something in more ways than one.

It was hailed as perhaps the greatest superhero film of them all, concluding with a wistful adieu, and before it had even been released its scene-stealing co-star Heath Ledger was dead.

Ledger's Joker was so graceful and compelling a villain that it became hard to imagine Batman ever getting worked up about fighting anyone else.

Nolan hesitated, but Warners eventually persuaded him to give Batman another shot.

In this story, developed by Nolan and his brother Jonathan and based on classic graphic novels including Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, Batman has been exiled by the Gotham PD after being wrongly implicated in the death of Harvey Dent.

The caped crusader, then, has been put out to stud, and an older and greyer Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a virtual recluse.

He kicks around Wayne Manor moaning to Alfred (Michael Caine) about his back, and is starved of excitement until Gotham City is threatened by a deadly new menace. A masked, hulking villain called Bane (Tom Hardy) emerges from the city's sewers to launch a daring raid on the stock exchange.

He manages to wipe billions off stock values almost as fast as an Irish bank, but money is not what Bane and his goons are after.

Their actions also cause a run on shares in Wayne Enterprises, and Bruce quickly loses control of the company. Bane isn't after that either, but seeks a prototype nuclear reactor the company had been developing behind closed doors. It was meant to turn Gotham City carbon neutral, but he wants to turn it into a bomb and hold the place to ransom.

The criminal then unleashes a kind of French Revolution in which the excessively wealthy are tried at rowdy show trials, and the streets are abandoned to the mob.

It's a case of come back Batman, all is forgiven, and as the caped one faces the greatest challenge of his life, he's also confronted by the willowy but perfidious Catwoman (Anne Hathaway).

Marion Cotillard plays Miranda Tate, another potential love interest, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an idealistic young cop.

The Dark Knight was so good, and so Wagnerian in tone, that following it -- let along topping it -- was always going to be problematic. And so it proves with The Dark Knight Rises, which crucially lacks both the narrative focus and the visual flair of its predecessor.

It lacks wit and any kind of alleviating lightness as well, and feels more like a trip to the abattoir during a power cut than a mainstream superhero movie.

Batman's exaggerated gravel voice in these films has always been a slight problem for me, and here he meets his match in Bane, whose evil speeches are so distorted by his fright mask that they're pretty much indecipherable.

For reasons that will become clear, there isn't really enough Batman on offer here, and one starts to pine for him as the carnage mounts on Gotham's streets.

Anne Hathaway is annoying rather than charming as the Catwoman, and the arc of Cotillard's character is not sustained either by her or the script. The film's biggest problem, though, is its length: its plot is not intellectually demanding, and could easily been accomplished in under two hours.

I'm being a little harsh here, but only judging Nolan by his own high standards. There's plenty to enjoy; Bale is fine again, and there are some strong action sequences. But it's all a bit dreary and funereal, and at times something a Batman film must never be -- boring.

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