Few bright spots in Batman's bleak finale

 

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The Independent Online

This concluding part of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy goes out with a bang, though the ringing in your ears as you leave the cinema may have less to do with exhilaration than puzzlement. For while one accepts the mayhem of explosions and mechanised roars as an inevitable adjunct of the modern blockbuster, it is long swathes of the dialogue that have scrambled the brains and bamboozled the reason. This isn't merely a problem with the story's villain, who talks through a mask that covers 80 per cent of his face; even characters with fully operational mouths and noses deliver lines that become, in the film's murky sound mix, indecipherable.

Intensity, rather than clarity, is this franchise's strong suit. For those who prefer their superheroes flawed and difficult, Bruce Wayne has certainly provided a Dark Knight of the soul. Eight years since his last public appearance, he now hobbles around his mansion on a stick, less the playboy billionaire than a frail recluse. He can't even be bothered to put up a fight when his late mother's pearls are stolen by a comely burglar, Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). It seems the authorities regard Wayne's elusive alter ego Batman as "a thug in a cape", blaming him for the death of Harvey Dent, the crusading District Attorney who supposedly made Gotham City safe from crime. Only police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth – that it was Batman who saved the day back then, not the two-faced Dent.

But the sleep of reason and the retirement of superheroes beget monsters. Down in the sewers of Gotham a crack army of terrorists has been preparing a coup on the city's rich elite. Their leader is a rippling hunk of muscle named Bane. He's played by Tom Hardy, foghorning his lines in an ac-tor-ly, sonorous boom, and woe betide anyone who dares reply: "Pardon me?"

Marion Cotillard plays philanthropist Miranda Tate, who wants to enlist Wayne on her green-energy project; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a cop who's twigged to Wayne's secret double-life, Batman Begins, is glimpsed late on as the judge of a mob-ruled court.

Bane and his crew are making their escape from the stock exchange when a certain caped crusader appears on the scene to give chase. You can't keep a good (Bat)man down, it seems, even when Gotham has been so ungrateful for his previous rescue missions. The plot, adopting an apocalyptic tone, sets up an almighty ding-dong between Bane, who presents himself as the city's liberator, and Batman, who we know is the city's protector.

Nolan hit the ground running with his debut Following (a lean 69mins) and then his masterpiece Memento (113mins). Since then the running time has steadily bloated, with Batman Begins at 140mins and The Prestige at 130mins. The Dark Knight leapt to 152mins, Inception almost equalled it (148mins), and now The Dark Knight Rises clocks in at an astonishing 164mins. This would be permissible if the film had other astonishments to match, but, aside from a late switcheroo of one character's loyalties, the movement of the film is all grind an no glide.

Bale is capable of great things but he's a sullen, awkward presence as Batman, and short of humour. Of course we know that Wayne is a man haunted by the murder of his parents but he also gets to kick ass, use some cool gadgets and shine his Bat-signal over the city. Surely some of it must have been fun?

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