The Reign of the Kitsch of Death has finally been broken. Director/writer Christopher Nolan has proven you don't necessarily need an actor named Taylor to create incomprehensible muck. One monikered Christian Bale will do as well.
To be blunt, from its opening second, The Dark Knight Rises is so unintelligible, both plot-wise and sound-wise, that at the screening I attended at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, I'd say nearly a quarter of the dialog was muddled. And if you just want to focus on the lead villain Bane (Tom Hardy), raise that figure to 75%. Believe me!
Anyway, for the first fifteen minutes or so of this batty affair, some folks have boarded a plane with two hooded prisoners, but then the prisoners take over, and their accomplices, suspended from another plane, tear apart the original plane, and everyone starts shooting at each other. At that point, Bane, who is one of the hooded gents, starts siphoning blood from one of his captors, who is now his hostage, and they jump from the plane together—and you'll have no idea why. Or who's who. Not even after watching the whole two hours and 45 minutes of this dreary, misguided, half-baked enterprise will you be enlightened.
Apparently, if I can unearth the plotline, and this is where the plotline usually goes, the head of the League of Shadows or someone connected to him wants to destroy Gotham City because its inhabitants are reprehensible. After all, they are humans. What do you expect? But who will save the day?
Not Bruce Wayne (Bale), who having a limp (no cartilage in his knees) and an aching heart, has sequestered himself because he lost his true love in the previous film. Alfred (a wretched Michael Caine), his butler of sorts, meanwhile, wants Wayne to bury Batman, find a mate, and get married. How about Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a highly successful businesswoman who has invested in a clean energy product with Wayne and once played Piaf with "No Regrets"? Or why not Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar turned Catwoman, who steals his mother's pearls? Of course, an even better option would be John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who's head of the Bring-Back-Batman fan club.
Not to spill the beans, an hour and a half into The Dark Knight Rises, Bane starts blowing up the city, and that's what we're waiting for. Also, there's a spectacular, nearly witty bombing of a football game, a few killings of Wall Street investors, and unending shots of Wayne trying to climb out of an inescapable underground prison. Think of Sisyphus on Quaaludes.
But what's worse than the dreary dialogue and the one-note performances (only Hathaway and Gordon-Leavitt rise out of these ashes) is the half-baked politics of this "epic."
The Nolans (brother Jonathan is co-writer) seem to be arguing that if the status quo is altered in any way, America will descend either into a police state or a French revolutionary debacle where the rich are battered by the have-nots. Ecologists, too, for that matter, don't get off easy. They really want to nuke us. As for the law, it has to be corrupt to achieve justice, and then poor secular humanism is depicted as more of a quirk of the few than the many.
But who goes to a Batman film for consciousness raising? You want entertainment, don't you? Ably, this Dark Knight will supply you with at least 20 minutes of sound amusement. Just bring your knitting for the rest of it. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "The Arts in New York City," "American Jewish Theater," and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.