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What a long dark knight

CHRISTOPHER Nolan's reboot of the Batman franchise got off to a great start with Batman Begins, an intriguing origin story which gave us a darker take on the Caped Crusader.

Unfortunately, by cementing the Bruce Wayne/Batman character as a dour, soulless billionaire vigilante (hey, if only we all had unlimited access to untold wealth and great gadgets I'm sure borderline fascistic behaviour would be par for the course) Nolan left himself little or no room to work with for the subsequent two movies.

The Dark Knight was owned by Heath Ledger's take on The Joker, leaving Christian Bale's Batman way in his wake, but even that bravura performance couldn't hide the fact that the film was the guts of an hour too long, a state of affairs which has deteriorated even more drastically with The Dark Knight Rises.

When your central character is as profoundly boring and uncharismatic as Bruce Wayne then you need a good villain up against him and the writers here have completely struck out with Bane.

As played by an unrecognisable Tom Hardy, this masked mercenary with a wholly baffling agenda for the liberation and eventual destruction of Gotham City (do one or the other, for God's sake man) is easily one of the worst protagonists in the entire series.

It would have been nice too had Christopher Nolan's sound designers thought to consider that two characters wearing masks and shouting plot points at each other might benefit from a clearer mix, as several crucial chunks of dialogue are all but inaudible.

The story here, such as it is, sees Bruce Wayne as a recluse some eight years after the death of Harvey Dent, the reforming mayor of Gotham City whose descent into madness gave us the entirely unnecessary final hour of The Dark Knight.

An encounter with burglar Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) hints that a storm may be coming and Bruce, much as he wants to keep away from the crimefighting limelight, finds himself pulled back in once Bane and his cohorts gradually seize control of the metroplolis.

Even by the standards of comic-book adaptations The Dark Knight Rises just doesn't stack up on any logical level. Sure, the writers have read the cog notes on A Tale of Two Cities and inserted a nod to the recent Occupy trend (the clear message here being Occupy Cinema Seats) but overall this is a redundant and dramatically dull exercise.

Granted, Christopher Nolan is a fine director and several action sequences here are top of the range but the abiding feeling after nearly three hours of this intermittently entertaining nonsense is of a franchise frantically seeking an extension of its lifespan.HHHII

THE LORAX Animation. Featuring the voices of Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Danny DeVito, Betty White, Directed by Chris Renaud. Cert General

The producers behind Despicable Me bring us the latest adaptation from the works of Dr Seuss and just about manage to stay on the right side of a dangerous divide where schmaltz and sermon lurk to envelop the unwary viewer.

In a beautifully animated, if overly preachy, story we have Ted (Zac Efron) living in a small town where corrupt business practices have left nothing natural growing and even fresh air itself is now a commodity.

Seeking a real tree to impress a girl, Ted travels beyond the town's boundaries to try to find a character called the Once-Ler (Ed Helms) who can tell the tale of how the environment was ravaged beyond repair.

Essentially, The Lorax is an ecology lesson for five- year-olds and doesn't possess the kind of wit or depth which the best animations of recent years have had in abundance.

That said, it does look rather nice and even the 3D glasses don't seem too burdensome over the course of a reasonably diverting 86 minutes. HHHII

SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP Documentary. Featuring Ice-T, KRS-One, Chuck D, Eminem. Directed by Ice-T. cert 15A

Whether or not you consider rap to be an art or merely blokes shouting at you in vaguely menacing nursery rhymes may colour how you approach this well-intentioned but ultimately flawed documentary.

Director and presenter Ice-T has delved back to the roots of the genre, heading to the South Bronx where he interviews originators, such as Melle Mel from the Furious Five, in an attempt to see why rap and hip-hop developed into such a globe-straddling musical style.

It's in the conversations with the early pioneers that Ice-T's labour of love works best, conveying the clear message that this was originally a direct and valid method of expression before the music industry swallowed it whole and its practitioners became more obsessed with bragging about bitches'n'bling than telling true stories about their lives.HHHII