It is rare for me to find myself in complete disagreement with virtually everyone else about a movie, and even rarer to have an instinctual reaction so undeniable that I have trouble explaining everyone else’s reactions.
But this is precisely what happened to me while watching The Dark Knight Rises. Somewhere around the two-hour-and-twenty-minute mark, when I realized that there was at least another half-hour of bone-crunching pretension to slog through, it occurred to me that I was watching a film that was not merely bad, but one of the worst films ever made.
A handful of brave souls (one has faced death threats as a result) have pointed this out already, and my complaints are no different from theirs: The Dark Knight Rises is at least an hour too long, it is a Batman film in which Batman barely appears, it is cheaply and sadistically violent, it is visually ugly, sonically abusive, and narratively incomprehensible, and it is, above all, excruciatingly boring. Even the lamentable Joel Schumacher did not succeed in the seemingly impossible feat of making Batman boring. The immensely more gifted Christopher Nolan has.
Even the details are The Dark Knight Rises’ devil. It features a Batman who is a retired cripple who suddenly becomes a physically fit superhero, then a cripple again, then a superhero again, before being stabbed in the side and experiencing what appears to be a total systems collapse. The film features a villain who comes up with the unspeakably ridiculous plan of trapping an entire city’s police force in a sewer system, a system that by definition is a massive grid with hundreds of access points.
It has Anne Hathaway as an anorexic robot; Tom Hardy as a completely inaudible Darth Vader knock-off; a desperate Michael Caine who is tossed after two scenes; a completely wasted Gary Oldman; a Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a lousy New York accent who appears for some unknown reason to have replaced Batman as the main character of a Batman film; a dozen pointless monologues that seem to last hours and a prison sequence that seems to last seven; innumerable action scenes that are visually interchangeable and dumbfoundingly endless; a political message that appears to consist of the admonition to kill the rich, then the poor, then yourself; a script that has a structure akin to the rib cage of a beached whale; a score that sounds like a techno-hymn to the Nuremburg rallies; and a director who, given his talent, cannot possibly have cared about any of it.
It is, in short, the Ishtar of comic book films. It is a film that does not merely fail, but fails on an awesome, awe-inspiring, epic scale, reaching that rarefied plane occupied by the likes of Battlefield Earth, Cutthroat Island, and Gigli. It tries to soar to the heights of greatness, and instead smashes headlong into a brick wall.
One wonders precisely what it will take, however, to convince people of this. When I saw it, the audience applauded both before and after. The critics have been noticeably kind. The Internet is abuzz with the ravings of adoring fanboys. Oscar talk is hovering in the air like an emaciated buzzard. And amidst all of the hype, only a handful of people are shaking their heads and wondering what the hell happened to everyone else.
Maybe the critics are intimidated by the vaguely disturbing fanboy fascism that seems to have become a mainstay of American culture. Others may simply not care enough to dislike what is, after all, a rather frivolous piece of entertainment. As for the masses, with their applause and accolades, they have no such excuses. Perhaps those of us who dislike the film are mad, or perhaps we ought to simply bow our heads and thank God that the world of art, at least, is not a democracy.
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor. He lives in Tel Aviv. His books can be purchased here.