You want it in four words? "Great movie. Too long."
Now the rest about "The Dark Knight Rises," one of the two most eagerly awaited movies of the summer (the other was Ridley Scott's visionary "Alien" variation "Prometheus"). Don't be surprised in such a movie to come across what is destined to be one of the most memorable lines of 2012, if not of this still-young decade.
It's at a masked ball. A battered Bruce Wayne -- a recluse at the Wayne manse for seven years -- has suddenly emerged from his luxurious isolation to attend -- unmasked -- the ball of a woman who seems to be a wealthy heiress (Marion Cotillard). When he spots the masked Selina (Anne Hathaway), a former Wayne housemaid who burgled his mother's pearls from his most impregnable safe -- and whom we've been seeing operate as a delicious new Catwoman -- he cuts in for a dance charged with both sexual and narrative tension.
The dialogue is riveting -- or at least her end of it is. She sexily leans in to his ear and says "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."
But she's not the only character of dubious virtue whose lines make Bruce Wayne/Batman seem like a whiny child. The movie's chief villain -- an evil terrorizing anarchist who eventually holds all of Gotham hostage to a threat of nuclear annihilation -- is a behemoth with a spiked Hannibal Lecter mask named Bane. "I'm Gotham's reckoning," he announces with his Darth Vader-like wheeze. "I'm the borrowed time you've all been living on."
And yet you have to know that great pains have been taken to tell us that this epic (nearly three hours long) was written by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan before the Occupy Wall Street movement first stunned America with a protest against irresponsible wealth as naked as anything since the Great Depression. In the context of the current presidential campaign -- in which one candidate used to own a corporate raiding operation named Bain Capital -- the movie has taken on a relevance that its creators couldn't have anticipated.
All of which has revealed Rush Limbaugh -- not surprisingly -- to be as clueless in the art of cultural analysis as he revealed himself to be about female contraception. He quickly gave up screaming about a villain named Bane in the movie when someone, no doubt, tapped him on his fleshy shoulder and pointed out that "The Dark Knight Rises" may be the most counter-revolutionary movie to come out of modern Hollywood.
While it's true that the villains and quasi-villains have all the good lines, it's also true that the condescension of "The Dark Knight Rises" leaves society exactly where Selina/Catwoman says it is, when she's being whirled around the floor by dashing billionaire Wayne.
On my scorecard, "The Dark Knight Rises" leaves you at the end with absolutely nothing that could trouble the sleep of Dick Cheney. Here are some things affirmed at the climax: the sanctity of Gotham's citizens, the rights of the rich to live as large as they want as long as they leave a little left over for the orphans, the duty of mega-corporations to withhold potential world-saving energy solutions if they think there's any possibility they'll be perverted by bad guys, the superiority of spunky little American women over French beauties with knockout decolletages, the anarchist evil of all avowed revolutionaries, the valiance of all metropolitan law enforcement officials -- even doof-uses who always make wrong choices and persist in wearing parade dress in the midst of battle.
No one will be surprised to discover that Nolan has said that "The Dark Knight Rises" bears Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" not-all-that-deep in its DNA But put Dickens' great tale-telling up against the contemporary realities 99 percent of us live with and a Batman/Bruce Wayne -- who welled up from the pulp imagination of the 1930s -- stands revealed at the end of "The Dark Knight Rises" as the greatest counter-revolutionary in the history of movies.
So where does that leave impassioned, eager moviegoers in the middle of that 99 percent who just want to see a great air-conditioned movie in a ruthlessly hot summer?
With a powerful, exceptional movie that's about a half-hour too long (a lot might have been cut from the beginning) and about 50 shades darker and more unremitting than any superhero epic has ever been before. When we had Heath Ledger's astounding dance of death as the Joker to elevate a "Dark Knight" fable into haunting and epic film art, you had a cinematic achievement that had left pop fantasy almost completely behind.
Nothing against Tom Hardy as Bane -- or anyone else in this tale (especially the always glorious Michael Caine and Hathaway who's a delight in every scene she's in) -- but a villain who looks like a WWE poseur wearing a dog muzzle doesn't quite take this into the astonishing territory of its immediate forebear, which was -- as many of us noted -- a $185 million art movie.
There's an enormous amount of pure story to this epic. All of it is very dark and much of it unexpected. That there's perhaps a bit too much, despite the undeniable power of it, indicates no one knew how to say no to producer/director/writer Nolan. In all of that narrative profusion, nothing will faze you if you remember that the whole Nolan "Batman" sequel is a prequel to everything else.
Out in the moviegoers' 99 percent though, where movie lovers cherish the glorious incongruities of tiny Hollywood miscues in the middle of vast, sprawling entertainments involving gigantic creative armies and all the money in the world, you might want to ponder this question:
Why does Bruce/Batman -- costumed in one scene where he's suddenly been left alone with no one else to hear what he has to say -- still talk to himself in a fake husky whisper? In the old days of movies, they had people to worry about such things. Some good 99 percenters that 1 percent movie people shouldn't skimp on, if you ask me.
The Dark Knight Rises
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Christian Bale,m Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
RUNNING TIME: 164 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for violence, torture and intense, unremitting gloom
THE LOWDOWN: Christopher Nolan's "prequel" trilogy to the Batman saga concludes with a battered Batman defending Gotham against anarchist terrorists with a nuclear bomb.