Hello Mr. Wayne...
[As always, spoilers apply.]
After the success of The Dark Knight, it was evident that Christopher Nolan was faced with the impossible challenge of concluding his epic Batman trilogy without its most memorable villain, the Joker. Respectfully and wisely he chose not to recast the role and decided to make no mention at all of the Joker in the follow-up However there were still lingering questions that bothered me about the ending of The Dark Knight and the Joker's mysterious absence in Rises becomes prominent during the major events that occur throughout and simply go unacknowledged. Heath Ledger's absence in the film is indeed felt as is also the absence of Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent/Two Face whose questionable death at the end of The Dark Knight made Batman a pariah who has disappeared from Gotham for almost a decade.
The Dark Knight Rises is a disappointment for Batman fans, but most audiences who are not stepped deep in the lore of the comic book mythology or character will still probably enjoy the film as mindless summer blockbuster escapism. Never mind that the film is riddled with more plot holes than a block of moldy Swiss cheese that would make even The Riddler green with envy. For example, if Batman has retired, why then did he even bother rebuilding the Batcave when Wayne Manor was restored after its destruction in Begins? How is it that Batman is able to survive having his back broken by Bane and is able to not only heal himself without the use of the Lazarus Pit from the comics but also climb out of a virtually inescapable prison pit somewhere in India to return to physically confront his nemesis is a time frame that defies any logical sense? And how is it that Bane can travel half way around the world to dispose of Batman and return to Gotham all the while in the midst of executing his uninterrupted and strategically coordinated terrorist attacks on the city? Why does Alfred abandon Bruce Wayne after repeatedly assuring him he would never leave his side in the other films? Why does Bruce fall in love with Miranda Tate after being so distraught over Rachel's death that he hangs up Batman's cowl? These and many other lapses of plot logic largely go unaddressed throughout the film leaving the viewer to either scratch their heads in bewilderment or simply accept them with naive suspension of disbelief.
Admittedly Christopher Nolan was not that familiar with the comic book mythology of Batman, instead turning to screenwriter David S. Goyer for story and character ideas to help him bring a decidedly reality-based Batman to the screen. As a result, there are not that many Batman villains from the infamous "Rogues Gallery" who could have convincingly translated well into the "Nolanverse" on the big screen. Certainly the Penguin could have worked in a very crime boss way taking over for Carmine Falcone in Batman Begins, but the inevitable inclusion of Catwoman as alluded to in The Dark Knight would have made The Dark Knight Rises feel more like a redux of Tim Burton's Batman Returns. The Riddler could have potentially worked if he had been realized as a sort of Zodiac killer but ultimately the Riddler would have felt like The Joker-lite.
Enter Bane who represents a significant chapter of Batman's comic book mythology in that he is the villain responsible for breaking, both literally and symbolically, Batman's back and putting him out of commission while Jean Paul Valley a.k.a. Azrael takes up Batman's mantle during the "Knightquest" storyline from which Goyer and Nolan have "lifted" many of their key plot points for Rises from and also from the "No Man's Land" epic storyline in which Gotham City suffers from a catastrophic earthquake which isolates it from the mainland while the inmates of Arkham have taken over the city ala: Escape From New York. The result is a visually stunning epic film that ultimately makes very little sense plot-wise.
Tom Hardy's portrayal of Bane is unique and vastly different from the steroid induced hulking Bane wearing a Mexican wrestler looking mask from the comic books. Hardy is one of the most interesting and versatile method actors to watch onscreen. His performance in Bronson was extraordinary and his physical presence onscreen as Bane is chillingly brutal even when limited by emoting from behind a synthesized face mask that at times makes his dialogue somewhat distorted and unintelligible and come off sounding like Darth Bane. The character's origins have been altered significantly from the comics. Instead of a South American inmate that had been physically transformed by an experimental super-soldier serum Venom, Bane origins initiate from somewhere in the Middle East where he was disfigured in a prison in which he is coincidentally, for the sake of the plot, the protector of Ra's Al Ghul's daughter Talia who has returned to Gotham under the name of Miranda Tate and her reveal as Talia who has returned to avenge her father's death and fulfill the destiny of the League of Shadows to destroy Gotham feels like a forced plot contrivance tacked on at the end of the film.
Perhaps the biggest offense though in TDKR is the fact that Nolan has repeatedly gone on record stating that Robin would never make an appearance in his Batman films but then decides to shoehorn him into the ending of the film in such a way that is not only a slap in the face to Batman fans everywhere but does so in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the character of Dick Grayson's Robin, or even his protege Jason Todd or even his successor, Tim Drake. Joseph Gordon Levitt's John Drake/Robin has more akin to Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne's future successor to Batman's mantle from the cartoon and it's literally a "cop out" if you'll pardon the pun. John Drake is an orphaned street cop who just walks up and knocks on the door of Wayne Manor and announces that he knows Batman's secret identity is Bruce Wayne and we are supposed to buy that Bruce then endows Batman's entire legacy and mantle to him, without any of the martial arts training he acquired under the tutelage of Ra's Al Ghul or the League of Shadows, and will allegedly continue on as Gotham's new Batman?
Christopher Nolan is, though, to be commended for bringing a gritty realism back to Batman and keeping the franchise alive after Joel Shumacher's campy farcical films nearly destroyed the franchise completely. However, a director of Nolan's acclaim and talent should be ashamed for the lackadaisical directorial effort demonstrated in TDKR. In short, it feels like Nolan phones it in on this one. Like Indiana Jones, Batman has Nuked the Fridge. Perhaps it was the overwhelming success of The Dark Knight, the daunting task of continuing in the wake of the death of Heath Ledger, and or physical and mental exhaustion of contractually delivering a third installment to the studio that makes TDKR feel so substantially "off" from the pitch-perfect feel of The Dark Knight, a superior film by comparison which felt as though all of the narrative pieces fit together seamlessly along with the strong performances by Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart.
TDKR is the Return of the Jedi of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. It is a very flawed, tired, but guiltily entertaining film to watch. It will be interesting to see where the Batman franchise goes from here. Will it continue with Joseph Gordon Levitt wearing the cowl or will a new director recast and reboot from scratch and completely disregard the alternate reality continuity of the Nolanverse? Batman is a mythology that has been continuously retold in all media from different interpretations of the character. If The Man Of Steel is successful I can already see Warner Bros handing Zack Snyder the keys to the franchise, turning his vision of a reboot into a hyper-reality, CGI exaggerated 300 meets Watchmen style of Batman. Personally, I would much prefer a big screen adaptation of Arkham City. Probably the best interpretation of Batman I've experienced in any media.
The Dark Knight Lives.