Knight of the living dead

The final part of the Batman trilogy deals high entertainment, but there is a void with the Joker gone from the pack

It's a fate that can't be helped, but it must be said that we all seem to miss the Joker. Or to be precise, we miss Heath Ledger and his wormy nihilism.

Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises.

The masochist Batman is without his spiritual counterpart, and The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in the Christopher Nolan's trilogy, is left in search of that cool breeze of anarchy, that non-ideological malevolence, which made the previous film so disturbing.

Here, instead, the wealthy Batman is pitched against a band of Occupy Wall Street-like terrorists _ of course Bruce Wayne belongs to the 1% _ led by the Marxist-Leninist-Fascist Bane, his voice amplified into a boom through a metal mask like Darth Vader. It's a good match, thought not the finest match. Bane doesn't come across as sick enough to fight the sickest man of all, our Batman.

The bottom line first: The Dark Knight Rises, awaited by the whole world as if it were the coming of a messiah, delivers on its promise as a mega-entertainment, but it's less dark, and with uncharacteristic inelegance along the way.

The sweeping scope and carefully calibrated setpieces are all here, set into motion by Bane's airborne hijacking at the start, as Hans Zimmer's portentous score declares the coming apocalypse and vibrates the IMAX seat.

Then comes Bane and his band of former convicts as they storm the stock market, beat up Batman, and lay siege to the entire Gotham City in a move that's ideologically obscure. It's a 165-minute movie, and the final scream in the last stretch warrants the hype that has preceded the film.

To fill the void left by Joker, Nolan needs more than one additional attraction: there are the sadistic Bane (Tom Hardy, with a very thick neck); Selina Kyle, or the Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, with her irresistible Jungle Red lipstick); Marina Tate, an eco-friendly exec (Marion Cotillard); and Officer John Blake, the future Robin (Joseph Gorden Levitt).

The old men who take care of Bruce Wayne _ Christian Bale looking a little tired _ hover around him like archangels, led by the ever-impressive Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman.

There are also two decrepit Central Asian sages who, like in Chinese martial arts lore, revive the physical and moral strength of the young warrior when Bane banishes him into a mythic pit. By now, we're certain that Nolan's trilogy amounts to something of a hagiography of Batman, the tortured soul and orphaned billionaire with a philanthropy complex, determining to save his personal Gomorrah from its own destiny.

Only that St Batman is an oxymoron, for to be a saint, you have to die first, and Batman, a global blockbuster property, cannot die. What the three films accomplish to a degree, starting with Batman Begins in 2005 and The Dark Knight in 2008, is to turn a childish superhero genre into an intense crime noir and a psychoanalysis of Wayne.

Like most superheroes in Spandex costumes, crime-fighting is Batman's therapy, and it's much easier if you have all the super-gadgets that he has in his cave, just as easy as when mega-rich people go to save Asia or Africa.

Sometimes this psychoanalysis works, but other times, it feels like hokum.

The reason why Joker is so scary and memorable is because the guy operates on impulse, unhinged from all morality and political orientation, while Bane, with his mix of lunacy and vengeance, orchestrates a theatrical "liberation" of Gotham citizens and comes across like a fake Communist.

With a number of British and non-American actors in the series, the three Batman movies have a slight Shakespearean feel, though it is thinnest in The Dark Knight Rises, and to me it proves that Nolan, such a gifted director, is not that interested in the drama.

At heart he's a visual and technical specialist backed by consciously complex, or convoluted, scripts (think Memento or Inception), and honestly I still don't get the motive of Bane and other villains in this film. That said, I drank the grandiosity of The Dark Knight Rises from my IMAX seat; I sat towards the front so that everything looks bigger, and it works, despite the initial adjustment.

The Krungsri IMAX at Paragon projects with film, not digital, and the wide surface of the IMAX film _ Nolan shot nearly half of the film with the special film _ has a thrilling impact. Bale's lips, while the rest of his face is hidden under the mask, seem more menacing, more sick, when seen that big and that close. And the master shots of city views are giant, immersive and vertiginous.

I'm not a romantic who bemoans the death of film, but as all IMAX screens go digital _ and they will _ I'll miss the texture of film, especially in movies designed for such visual thrills as this.

The Dark Knight has just risen. Nolan may no longer want to make another Bat movie, but Batman lives and will somehow return.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Bangkok Post columnist