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Some Ramblings - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Can perfection be topped? Well, theoretically, no. Cinematically, only in a few of instances - Godfather - 2, Empire Strikes Back, Terminator - 2, where the follow-ups surpassed the originals. Among these, again, only Godfather - 2 can claim that coveted title of superior sequel, as it clearly charts the course of a character (Michael Corleone) as it ascends from modest beginnings to reach dizzying heights, professionally, while his personality takes an opposite trajectory. Perfect demarcation the Godfather movies had (at least, the first two), the rise in the first and the fall in the second. Terminator series (again the first two) builds on its action (endo-)skeleton. There are no deep philosophies here, neither character arcs. It does the same again, what it did in the first one, only better. And that is the problem with the latest outing of the Caped Crusader's adventures, that it pretty much sticks to the same template, as its wildly successful and critically acclaimed predecessor, without improving upon it by any stretch of action, thought or philosophy. And the sad part is that it does all this so spectacularly well. However the fresh rush in seeing the tumbler roll, or the Batcycle rev, is all gone this time around and taking to the air simply lacks the immediacy and the danger of its terrestrial counterparts. And even bigger problem with the movie is the VILLAIN. Joker was probably the most interesting and colorful characters from the stable of psychos in Arkham Asylum, that the rest of them pale in comparison in any garb in any speak. While the rest of them aimed at breaking down Batman in body, Joker broke him down in spirit. Look at the Joker, the comic book equivalent of a real world suicide bomber. He has nothing to lose; he gets tempted by nothing; and once those two are taken out of a man's existence, he either becomes the kindest heart in the world or its sadistic equivalent. He is no match to Batman's physicality, yet he gains an upper hand over him (at the end of 'The Dark Knight') purely by setting up the choices for Batman in such a way that the only option was to pick the better of the worst. He turns the whole spirit of the super hero (that as a symbol it can incorruptible) on its head, leaving Batman entangled in his own web of righteous ideology. In comparison, Bane merely breaks a few bones of Batman.

Knowing when to call it quits, more, when on a high, is probably the toughest decision to make in creative arts, and the 'The Dark Knight Rises' just shows how tough. The series would have served just as well, had it ended with the second installment itself, depicting the rise and fall of an icon, without this tedious redundant redemptive follow-up. A hero can only be as good as his villains. And if the villain is merely a big goon, there can't be much in the way of creative juice that can be squeezed out of that setup. Bane breaks Batman; Batman builds up; Bane breaks him again; Batman builds up again, this time seriously, and finally knocks him over. In between, there is a farcical social commentary on class warfare and the financial meltdown that causes it, trying to bring some topicality and seriousness to the proceedings. Sorry Mr. Nolan, it barely works. It is not the burden of unwieldy (and unfair) expectations that ultimately weighs down 'Rises', it is just that it had already peaked in the previous edition, and it had no where but to climb down. If the strife of the super hero cannot amount to something significant (in thought or action), he might as well shouldn't have bothered in the first place (like that existential question, would the tree falling down deep in the forest make any sound?) And the other major factor that plays into the whole deja vu feeling with the 'Rises' is the monotonous and sonorous background score of Hans Zimmer. What served as a menacing undercurrent to the chaos unleashed by the Joker in 'The Dark Knight', here merely amplifies in sound without serving any subtext to the events on the screen. The heavy bass, the occasional violin screech, and the overall bombastic score - all seem to be culled and spliced from the cutting room floor of the previous venture. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck. Well, 'The Dark Knight Rises' looks like a, feels like a, sounds like a 'paycheck movie' to the actors and the technicians, adding absolutely nothing to the ongoing conversations on the struggles of the super heroes.

Tailpiece: For sequels, the mantra is, more of the same, but bigger. 'More of the same', 'Rises' got it covered, in the 'bigger' category, it now has two incomprehensible growling characters in Bane and Batman (instead of the usual Batman) shouting at each other in hoarse voices, probably because neither could understand the other behind the masks and the fake voices.

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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