26 June 2012 | 10:20 am | Anthony Carew

Anthony Carew reviews Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy on the eve of The Dark Knight Rises.

In an era of requisite sequels stretching to infinity,' young adult book series and box office receipts demanding future episodes laid out for a decade, there's a sense of genuine expectation with the still-mysterious The Dark Knight Rises, the third, July 19-due instalment in Christopher Nolan's take on the Batman mythos. Of course, the third part of a trilogy is its own requisite instalment; in the world of tentpole action franchises, three is, forever, the magic number, placing closure — “A legend ends,” the tagline intones — in the coded structure of three-picture tales.

After the royally shitty Batman Forever and Batman & Robin in the mid-'90s, Nolan's appointment signalled a flirtation with credibility for DC Comics' cash-cow. What the new franchise steward brought to the table was actual filmmaking chops: a disdain for digital, an inventive sense of frame, and a love of cinematic parlour-tricks, which he'd shown with Following and Memento, and would later blow out big with The Prestige and Inception. The rebootin' tone was set early in Batman Begins, when a young Bruce Wayne cowers in the police station after his parents have been shot. “Good news!” a cop beams, and for a moment the boy's eyes twinkle with dreams of parental survival. “We got him!” the cop exhorts, the seized bad guy the ultimate hollow trophy for an orphaned boy.

From there, the emptiness of retribution — be it justice, vigilante justice or vengeance — has been the centre of Nolan's 'dark' vision of the Dark Knight, and that's permeated through pirouetting back-story and action-movie sequences both. In the trilogy template, the original gets to do all the formative storytelling — the 'origin' story — whereas the middle episode is the 'down' one, the empire striking back and chosen-one hero going from virtuous crusader to flawed, self-doubting outsider (“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”).

The punning title of the second stanza — The Dark Knight descending into an eternal dark night — echoes the picture's war-of-attrition, where skirmishes between hero and villain (Mumblin' Ledgie, in an inspired turn made sainted after his death), cops and crimelords, police and politicians leave the corpses of collateral damage scattered across a nightmarish vision of living in a city.

Where other, more odious entries in the comic-book-movie realm put all their chips behind the unassailable 'right' of their campily-costumed super-hero, writing off the ever-mounting casualties as 'by any means necessary' cost, The Dark Knight, amidst its chase sequences and Imax'd skylines and ethnic stereotypes and explosions, found time to ponder quandaries and poke at politics, questioning the very need for heroes in an era in which the notion of a virtuous vigilante (or, indeed, a benevolent big brother) is as outmoded as satin underpants over coloured tights.

With the Nolan Bros behind the screenplay for The Dark Knight Rises, we can rest assured that this 'final' film will be structurally provocative and morally compromised, which, given they're stuck having people in silly costumes say funny things before punching people, is all you can really ask. To pretend that the franchise is coming to an end — as that tagline proclaims — is a delusion; Batman will be re-born again, re-originised by someone else at some other time. Luckily, Nolan has given future keepers of the Batman flame something to live up to.