There were parts of The Dark Knight Rises that were among my very favorite movie moments of the year. There were also parts that were tedious, and even boring. And there were a few parts that were just plain bad. It's difficult to rate the movie in terms of how much I enjoyed it because my experience was all over the map. But I need to put a stake in the ground, so I'll start with that, and then move on to the details. This comes in at number five for me for the year. I'm glad I went. The movie was worth losing sleep over, and it was good enough that I didn't mind our seats in the wings.
I'll start with some of my favorite bits: the bat-bike, and the hard left turn it took. Commissioner Gordon and "sweep the corners, rookie." The fact that for the first time in a long time I actually felt afraid for an iconic superhero. Bane's escape in the opening scene. "Oh. So that's how that feels." This film had lots and lots of great moments in it.
My not-so-favorite bits: Oh, this plot device again. Many moments of actual boredom. The realization that the long Act II was a cinematographer's tool for helping the audience feel like they're there for the siege of Gotham.
And one actual problem, one true flaw: The audio.
There were parts of the movie where the score was competing with the the dialog, and the dialog lost the brawl. There were also parts -- lots of them -- where Bane's dialog was simply incomprehensible. Christopher Nolan declared artistic license on this one months ago, saying that it was "OK for a moviegoer not to understand what was said at times, as long as the overall idea was conveyed."
I'm going to disagree. I wasn't okay with it at all. I was frustrated, and it knocked me right out of the film. I kept asking myself "how does Bane maintain a loyal following if half of what he says sounds like a ham-fisted auto-tuning of Darth Vader?" And then I thought about Darth Vader. Thirty-five years ago we all went to a movie where we couldn't see the villain's lips as he spoke, and his voice was heavily processed, but we understood Lord Vader just fine.
Worst of all, I kept wondering if the guy processing the audio knew that he was betraying his guild by destroying the actor's work instead of showcasing it.
That's the crux of the matter, really. It's okay for the audience to be confused, or angry, or frustrated, or happy, sad, thrilled, horrified, whatever, as long as those emotions don't pull us out of the film. But the moment our reactions take us outside the story and force us to stare at the seams in this fabricated reality before us, the filmmakers have failed.
Christopher Nolan is to be applauded for not flinching in his creation of this film. Sadly, there were places where he really should have flinched, where Nolan the artist should have changed his approach based on the feedback from the test audiences.
If you decide not to see this one in theaters, you may want to watch the DVD or Blu-Ray with the closed captioning. Or perhaps hold out for The Dark Knight Rises: The Repentant Audio Engineer's Cut in a decade or two.