A knight less dark

Christopher Bale reprises role as the Dark Knight.

When The Dark Knight came out in 2008, a reporter asked me if I'd let my primary school-going kids see it.

"Of course not," I said.

Heath Ledger's performance as Joker was simply too disturbing, too authentic in its portrayal of nihilistic sociopathy.

The disappearing pencil trick?

No thanks.

Aaron Eckhart's pop-eyed skull face didn't help matters.

The PG-rated film was so intense and violent that many wondered why kids were even allowed in the theatre.

Interestingly enough, The Dark Knight was directly cited by the Media Development Authority when they added a new PG13 rating to their rating system last year. Said Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts Grace Fu: "A movie like The Dark Knight, which I am told contained themes of fear and menace, is now classified as PG when it may not be suitable for the very young ones.

NC16 on the other hand, may be too restrictive. With this new PG13 rating, parents of young children can be better guided in their media choices."

Regardless of one's opinion on The Dark Knight's suitability for younger viewers, the fact remains that it was plenty dark, which is why the controversy arose in the first place. I can't imagine The Dark Knight Rises inspiring a similar furore. Opening here today, The Dark Knight Rises did not receive a PG13 rating but instead a very mild PG, the same rating as The Amazing Spider-Man.

The Caped Crusader is now as family-friendly as the Webbed Wonder.

Though it still has plenty of hard-hitting action and tells a rather harrowing story, The Dark Knight Rises is nowhere near as horrifying as its predecessor.Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne, who is now a Howard Hughes-like figure holed up in his mansion. He hasn't donned the cape and cowl in eight years, since taking the blame for Two-Face's murderous mayhem in the second film.

That all changes when Bane (Tom Hardy) comes to Gotham with the sole purpose of destroying the city. With the help of old friends Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and butler Alfred (Michael Caine), plus a new pal in Batman fanboy John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the weary hero limps back into action.

Along the way, he also finds time to get frisky with the mysterious Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). While The Dark Knight Rises deals with human craziness in many of its myriad forms, it's conspicuously lacking in the sort of contempt for humanity that Joker brought to the proceedings. It's brutal, but it's not misanthropic.

Nolan has opted for more conventional thrills, eschewing the psycho circus.

"In deciding on who the next villain would be, it was imperative that it was someone completely different from the Joker - that he be a brute force," said the 41-year-old English-American director.

"The physical component of what Bruce Wayne does as Batman is of extraordinary importance, and we had not truly challenged that in the first two films.

"I really wanted to see Batman meet his match physically, as well as intellectually. Bane is raw strength with a fanatical devotion to duty, and that combination makes him unstoppable." Though Bane might look like an unthinking, unfeeling wrecking ball, the talented Hardy brings a humanity to the character.

In spite of the horrible things he does - and he gets up to some incredibly wicked business - you always feel like there's a person in there behind the scary mask and muscles. "With Tom Hardy, I knew I would get the whole package," said Nolan.

"He is such an incredible actor; he was able to depict this beast of a man who has exceptional fighting skills, but also able to convey the soul of someone who is damaged inside as well as out." The relative level-headedness of The Dark Knight Rises isn't just about the choice of villain, of course.

Nolan has made decisions both big and small that have affected the whole tone of the picture. For one thing, Batman actually comes out during the day!

I can't remember seeing him out in sunlight before, the thinking probably being that black cars - and costumes - look better in the shade.

Better toys

For another thing, Batman now has better toys.

No longer is he hunkered down in his Batmobile or straddling his Batcycle - now he's flying around in the sky like a real bat, thanks to his futuristic helicopter.

This new form of locomotion allows for a less claustrophobic feeling and a certain sense of exhilaration.

I mean, a Batcopter to me just says F-U-N.

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