By Richard Schickel
Next to the fact that a dozen people are dead and close to 60 are wounded as the result of a shooting spree in Colorado, it is of small consequence that a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” was the proximate cause of the horror. It could have happened at any movie (though not, I think, a comedy). So far as one can tell, Christopher Nolan’s concluding episode of his Batman series is simply rolling on to its predictable (and critically lauded) glory.
I’m, however, going to take a minority position on the picture. I think it is quite a bad movie—almost three unnecessary hours long, and almost entirely incoherent. As the summer drags along, with nothing the reviewers can really get behind, this is the default good film of the season. But we have to attach an asterisk to that judgment. I have consulted a number of the film’s notices and I have yet to discover a clear account of its story. It’s all masterpiece burble, a sure sign that the critics cannot get a grip on what the movie is trying to say or be.
Oh, sure, it’s loaded with action set pieces—too many of them—and Christian Bale’s Batman is more broody and recessive than ever, a reluctant caped crusader if ever there was one. He’s a guy looking for a plot to hang his hat on—and finding too many of them, none offering truly compelling interest. Anne Hathaway is pretty and perky and offers the only merriment—none of it very sexy—that the film contains. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are back in their accustomed roles, which seem underwritten in this instance. The head heavy is Tom Hardy, equipped with a mask-like breathing device and a lot of portentous bluster that somehow isn’t very scary.
And that’s about it, folks. “The Dark Knight Rises” simply wanders fecklessly to some kind of a conclusion, aspiring, sometimes, to a tragic note but mostly out for a good time, which it rarely achieves. It is, in fact, an infinitely distractible movie, pursuing (and often dropping) side issues as they present themselves to the filmmakers. Put simply, the movie is opportunistic, but without any real conviction. Stuff just sort of happens, and then the thing moves on with no particular rhyme or reason.
The film is said to have cost something like $400 million, which is obviously not peanuts. But for all its length and all the effort that went into its spare-no-expense special effects, it is curiously weightless. We want it to be good. We certainly don’t want it to be the occasion for tragedy. What we are forced to settle for, though, is aimlessness. That’s all right—plenty of that going around these days. But, shamelessly, we want more: real energy instead of mere frenzy, for one thing, something that grabs us by the throat instead of just passing the time. Nolan and his brother Jonathan, who co-wrote the script with him, could have done so much more with this material, but the film is lazy when it isn’t frantic. And so it is dwarfed by the real-life events that occurred in Colorado.