I admired Batman Begins because it rejuvenated a tired superhero franchise with a first-rate cast and an entirely new look and feel for the characters. Its sequel The Dark Knight was so strong because, well, it had the Joker – one of the most iconic villains in pop culture brought to life by Heath Ledger's sensational performance. (Even if the actor had lived, his work would still be legendary.) But there was more to it than that: Christopher Nolan and his brother/cowriter Jonathan took a bold step in keeping the Joker's past and motivations unknown. As a result, their script was free to explore the ethical dilemma inherent in trying to stop an unpredictable and unknowable sociopath.
Now with Ledger dead and a trilogy that needed to be wrapped up, the Nolans had a lot to consider. How do you top The Dark Knight? How do you conclude the saga in an emotionally satisfying way while introducing new characters from the Batman comic universe? The Nolans' resultant screenplay consists of a handful of triumphs – they handle the potentially embarrassing character of Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) quite well and they certainly pack in a lot of story – and a number of fumbles.
Critics might have dismissed the moral quandaries of The Dark Knight as phony intellectualism, and it's true that Christopher Nolan's work often staggers under the weight of its own self-importance, but at least there was some originality at play. In The Dark Knight Rises, he and his brother fall back on too many plot contrivances: last-second rescues from certain death, clumsy dialogue, and twists that are nearly impossible to swallow.
On top of that, the film displays a creepy, Atlas Shrugged-like undertone when the villainous Bane (Tom Hardy) takes over Gotham and essentially lets "the 99%" run it into the ground. In the wake of the Wall Street meltdown and the police brutality witnessed during the Occupy movement, it's off-putting that the wealthy, powerful Nolan is suggesting to his audience that the 1% truly knows best.
So no, I didn't care much for The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan is still a fine hand at directing action, and of course his cast is excellent as always (though shame on him for relegating Michael Caine, one of the best things about this series, to a couple of teary-eyed monologues), as are the cinematography, production design, and music. But politics aside, it's about the story, stupid. And The Dark Knight Rises' story disappoints.