Threequel curse a threat for Batman?

JAMES JOYCE
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2012

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Holy hole in a doughnut, Bat-fans! Only two more sleeps till The Dark Knight Rises.

But there's something sinister waiting in the Bat-wings. It's the dreaded threequel curse. 

You know the score: the classic movie sagas that stumble on the third chapter. Think The Godfather Part III. Think Return of the Jedi. Think Police Academy 3: Back In Training.

It's long been this way for comic book superhero movies too. Christopher Reeve's Man of Steel was a box office hit in 1978. But who remembers 1983's Superman III (hint: it's the one with Richard Pryor)?

The first two Batman movies, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, boasted fabulously gothic styling and deliciously black humour.

OK, so the stories were batty but it was hard to resist Jack Nicholson as The Joker (in 1989's Batman) and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman (in 1992's Batman Returns).

But the wheels fell off the Batmobile when Joel Schumacher took control for Batman Forever (1995) and then Batman & Robin (1997).

The same goes for the X-Men series, which hit the wall when director Bryan Singer handed over his mutant heroes  to Brett Ratner for X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).

Even Sam Raimi, after two fabulous Spider-Man films, had fans climbing the walls with 2007's Spiderman 3.

Can director Christopher Nolan elude the threequel curse with the third and final instalment of his grim, introspective Batman trilogy?

The British director certainly came to the DC Comics hero unafraid of the dark and willing to put heart before hardware.

His Batman Begins (2005) played deadly serious as it stripped the legend to its tragic core. The Dark Knight (2008) ventured deeper into the blackness - Heath Ledger's death before the film's release lending his performance as The Joker a macabre and tragic beauty. 

Early buzz on The Dark Knight Rises is promising.

The epic-length movie (at two hours and 45 minutes) is set eight years after The Dark Knight and opens with reclusive Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) a physical wreck, his business empire on the rocks and his cowled alter-ego still at large and wanted for murder.

He returns to the fray when the masked and muscled terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) emerges from the sewers with a plan - and an army - to conquer Gotham City. 

The Dark Knight Rises borrows from two classic Batman comic-book storylines - The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller's seminal 1986 graphic novel about an aging Batman forced out of retirement by a crime wave, and Knightfall, the 1993 story in which the brutish Bane  breaks Batman's back.

But the film's screenplay, which Nolan wrote with his brother (and regular collaborator) Jonathan, plots its own course, adding Anne Hathaway as a thief (aka Selina Kyle aka Catwoman), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an idealistic cop under Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon and Marion Cotillard as a Wayne ally.

With The Avengers  having eclipsed The Dark Knight to become the third-highest grossing film of all time in Australia and worldwide, can The Dark Knight Rises restore the Caped Crusader's box office reputation and earn a place among the pantheon of great superhero movies?

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Not long until we find out.

- The Canberra Times

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