Europeans often marvel that popular American films are saturated in violence but prudish about sex. "The Dark Knight Rises," rated PG-13, would be Exhibit A. The sex is tame even by middle school standards, but the violence runneth over and over.
Sex: Batman/Bruce Wayne kisses both female leads -- Anne Hathaway's red-lipped Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Marion Cotillard's seductive Miranda Tate -- but no tongues. His dance-floor smooch with Catwoman wouldn't even merit action from a prom chaperone. And when Wayne beds Tate, director Chris Nolan goes for the Penthouse-lite fantasy playbook -- the Gothamites snuggle down before a fire but are covered in furs, which Cotillard modestly holds over her chest. Bale, not one to waste a six-pack, goes shirtless. But this is very tame stuff.
Drugs: None! Not even a single ciggie. Boy, we have cleaned up America! (See the Europeans, who would note that our movies have scrapped tobacco but not surgery-inducing assault and battery.)
Violence: Buyer beware -- brutality reigns. The odd mano-a-mano physical confrontation between the uber-brawny Bane (Tom Hardy) and the Caped Crusader deep in the movie is way too "Fight Club." Bane basically kicks the wings out of Batman. It's disturbing to see our hero beaten down schoolyard-bully style, a point that will not be lost on your kids. Heat-seeking missiles aren't nearly as terrifying as a bigger kid who knows how to use his mitts. Batman was never about pure physical strength -- the guy wears a cape! He's so out of his league that it's a little pitiful. The numerous bone-crunching murders by neck twist make for some hard viewing. One mitigating factor is that this is comic-book violence, which means no viscera, no bits of flying brain matter. Some mothers will find that small consolation, but my kids can handle it.
While the violence thrums, it's still not any more extreme than it was in "The Dark Knight," which was far more disturbing. The thornier issue is that, at 164 minutes, the movie is so darn long, and the plot is so thready and tangled. Any kids with a short attention span will be wiggling in their seats. Ask afterward what the movie was about, and your child may simply say "Batman" and walk away. Safe bet!
And, yet, the confusions of the plot and the amped-up violence will be mitigated in the theaters because this is an event movie. Take a group of kids and they will respond to the violence as a group (ew!) and the sex, too (ick!). Taken this way, the movie is less about making sense and more about creating a communal superhero experience, less the well-crafted, character-driven "Avengers" than "Rocky Horror Picture Show."
My advice is to heed the rating -- this is a movie for 13-year-olds and up. Anticipate the violence and adrenaline. I admit it; I waxed nostalgic for yesterday's "Wham! Pow! Splat!" In the beloved yet cheesy TV show -- unlike Nolan's darker, deeper cousin -- villains like the Joker and the Penguin made a lot more sense, and you could still afford an apartment and raise a middle-class family in Gotham City.
The cast of 'The Dark Knight Rises' talks to Yahoo! Movies: