Christopher Nolan meant it when he said he wanted to end his Batman story in "The Dark Knight Rises". We just didn't know just how far he'd go, and, to be honest, even though it has topped the box office chart for 3 weeks running, I don't believe it actually fulfilled all expectations.
Even though for us it has been four years between films, Nolan doubled the time in the story, making it 8 years since Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face (Aaron Eckhart, seen only in flashback and in photos) and Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhall in "Dark Knight") had died, and Batman (Christian Bale) had taken the blame for Dent's passing, resulting in a big lie that led the citizens of Gotham to believe Dent died a hero, turning the Dark Knight into an outlaw.
In the interim, Bruce Wayne has retired his alter-ego and settled into reclusive retirement at Wayne Manor, slowed by a litany of injuries that leads to the use of a cane to move about. He hosts a social gathering one night, and finds that one of the maids isn't who she seems to be, but rather a slippery burglar, one Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, "Get Smart"), who makes off with not only a pearl necklace that belonged to Bruce's late mother, Martha, but also Wayne's fingerprints from the safe, meant for a business rival, John Daggett, who is looking to take advantage of Wayne's remaining in absentia and taking over Wayne Enterprises.
Meanwhile, there is Bane (Tom Hardy), a hulking mercenary supposedly excommunicated from the League of Shadows, Ra's Al Ghul's group. Bane intends to bring Gotham City to its knees, and carry out Al Ghul's mission, however twisted that is. As was the case when he was introduced in the comics nearly 20 years ago, Bane puts the Batman on the shelf after a brief comeback by breaking his back. However, he then takes Batman to the very same prison where Bane himself grew up.
When Bane was introduced in the books, he was dressed more like a pro wrestler, which would doubtlessly explain why Joel Schumacher cast the late grappler Robert "Jeep" Swenson as Bane in "Batman & Robin" 15 years ago. Obviously, Bane was treated much better this time-----most of the time.
Wayne is so out of touch with business matters, he leaves himself vulnerable to a Trojan Horse play by bringing in Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and putting her in charge of the company when the stolen fingerprints are used in a scam that leaves Bruce penniless. Everything then begins to crumble. Alfred (Michael Caine), fearing for Wayne's life, resigns. Bane appears to have won, after Selina had betrayed the Batman, and, as a result, learns his secret identity, though, in a clear case of poor continuity, this is forgotten later in the film.
Nolan had tried to keep the exact nature of Cotillard's role under wraps, but that's kind of hard to do when you have millions of comics geeks with access to the internet, coupled with their own instincts. They got around the attempted swerves thrown by Nolan & Cotillard, and, as it happens, when Miranda betrays Batman as well, it's because of who she really is----Talia Al Ghul, Ra's' daughter, seeking to avenge her father's death in the first film. Liam Neeson returns in a brief bit as a ghostly apparition, and, in another nod to "Batman Begins", Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), aka the Scarecrow, is presiding over a twisted version of The People's Court. Crane ain't exactly Judge Wapner, not even Judge Roy Bean, but it doesn't last very long. If Nolan had chosen to be more direct with his use of Talia, fans would be more understanding and/or forgiving. There was a brief time in the comics back in the 80's when Batman was courted by both Talia and Selina, with a side order of Vicki Vale, and since Nolan was using comics from the 90's as a template, well, why not dig deeper?
But it's not just the comics that were a template. There was also the classic Batman: The Animated Series, marking its 20th anniversary this year. On that show, there was a criminal businessman named Roland Daggett who was a bit of a thorn in Batman's side.
I have to disagree with fellow blogger Sam Wilson over at Mondo 70 on one point, and that is the usage of John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, to be seen next in "Premium Rush" & "Looper"), who, like Bruce Wayne, was an orphan, and deduced Wayne's secret identity. We'd later learn that Nolan would use Blake as a means of fitting in one otherwise missing piece of the Bat-mythos that had been deliberately left out of the series. You can figure that one out.
I also disagree with Nolan's decision at the end of the film to seemingly kill off Batman/Bruce, having the world think that Wayne is dead, when instead, he's fulfilling a vision Alfred had, but only in a happier circumstance. Blake gains access to the Batcave as his "inheritance", leading one to believe Nolan, had he wanted to continue, would've had his own version of Batman Beyond if he wanted Blake to inherit the mantle of the Bat completely. Gordon-Levitt was terrific, as was Anne Hathaway as Selina (never referred to as Catwoman, though she'd don a costume that was in effect a homage to TV's original Felonious Feline, Julie Newmar). Tom Hardy, given the ridiculous gas-mask-like apparatus (and is it just me, or is that a bat-emblem around the mouth area?) he had to wear throughout the film (the script explains why), was serviceable, but not quite as menacing as you'd think. I read where Hardy had gained some weight for the role. Given what I said earlier about Bane being modeled after a wrestler, Hardy makes him appear to be more of a football player, which is appropriate given the scene in the football stadium, where newly retired Pittsburgh Steelers star Hines Ward runs the opening kickoff back for a touchdown despite the chaos behind him. Other Steelers, including Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu, appear in this segment as well.
Given the success of the movie, despite the flaws and the unfortunate, tragic episode in Colorado on opening night, I'd not be surprised if there was a call for a "Catwoman" spinoff as a solo vehicle for Anne Hathaway. Her portrayal of Selina strikes close to, again, the character's portrayal in her solo book in the 90's, more as a female version of Alexander Mundy (Robert Wagner in It Takes a Thief), though I'd imagine millions of boys wouldn't mind letting her break into their homes......!
Anyway, here's a trailer from WB's YouTube channel:
Pushing past 2 1/2 hours in length, "Dark Knight Rises" padded the story more than it needed to. Compacting it down would've made it a more enjoyable experience.