This is your final spoiler warning. Here goes.
Okay, I admit I was wrong. Robin, who bears absolutely no resemblance of any other version of Robin, ever, was in "The Dark Knight Rises." However, this was the only version that was ever going to work in the Nolan universe. Officer John Blake's story was easily the most complete and satisfying one in the film, and I can't help wishing that he could have stayed an entirely original character to escape all the extra baggage associated with Robin. But as a reinvention of a Batman staple, he may be the most thorough and impressive one I've seen yet.
I wish I could be as excited about the other new characters that were introduced, but they don't even come close. The misdirection about Bane and Talia al Ghul was clever, but it came at the expense of both of the characters. Bane, without the Venom, with his origins rewritten, was simply a very smart and intimidating terrorist in a scary mask. We didn't know what his real intentions were, unlike the Joker, who very effectively demonstrated the depths of his psychosis. And in the end it turns out that all the talk of revolutions and punishing Gotham was just for show. The real mastermind behind Bane was Talia, who was bent on avenging her father. She barely got any screentime whatsoever, and it was only thanks to Marion Cotillard that the reveal landed with any impact. Nolan's Bane was certainly a sadistic menace, but one whose motives were entirely too confused to be a great villain.
Then there was Catwoman. Anne Hathaway brought the charm and the sexiness, and seemed game to tackle the role, but was given so little material to work with. She fights. She banters. She looks great in the costume, giving off more of a Julie Newmar vibe than her film predecessors. There are hints of a possible romance with Bruce Wayne. Mostly, though, she's on her own, playing a game with different stakes than what the rest of the cast is dealing with. Selina Kyle's subplot takes up a lot of time, but seems to have the least bearing on the larger story. Wayne's romance turns out to be with Miranda Tate, not her. Kyle is only minimally linked to Bane, and her conversion to the side of angels isn't particularly meaningful. She's just involved enough to justify her share of the spiffy action scenes and witty one-liners, but only just.
And then we come to Bruce Wayne. I like that Christopher Nolan wanted to create a definitive ending for Wayne, and to let his story conclude. The trilogy began with the origin of Batman, and it was a bold idea to end it with the last chapter of Wayne's tenure as a superhero. Nolan did his best to convince us that it made sense for Wayne to willingly give up the cape and cowl, emphasizing his precarious physical condition, providing him with a clear successor, and having multiple characters point out that his behavior had gone from selfless to self-destructive. I don't know that I really buy it though. Wayne faking Batman's death I can understand, but why fake his own? If he was willing to give up so much to save Gotham City, why leave it behind for good?
It's not that I don't think that this was a good endgame, but it's not set up well at all. We don't get to see Wayne exorcising the demons of his past, or having the epiphany that he can and should move on from Gotham. This is a major oversight. No other version of Batman has ever left the Batman role, and we really needed to see more of the thought process behind the decision. After the fight with Bane, when this soul-searching should have happened, instead we get Wayne in the Pit, learning the backstory of Bane and Talia. How does the lesson of scaling the prison wall fit into Wayne's mental state and ongoing character arc? Does learning to fear death again boost his will to live? Does he learn that being a symbol of heroism is more important than the actual act? I almost wish that the final glimpse of Bruce Wayne was Alfred's fantasy, because the lack of an explanation undercuts the last twist so badly.
There were other parts of "The Dark Knight Rises" that worked. The fall of Gotham City to Bane was beautifully plotted out and executed. The scenes of life under his reign of terror were fun, especially Dr. Crane presiding over the kangaroo court. I have no complaints regarding any of the action sequences, and I particularly enjoyed Selina Kyle getting herself out of the bar with a combination of fighting and trickery. Up until the Pit sequences, I liked how Bruce Wayne's character arc was going. However, I have to say that Batman looked out of place in a lot of shots. I don't know it was the increased daytime scenes or some changes in art design, but the rubber suit looked like it belonged in an older, campier movie.
I'm also glad that Alfred and Commissioner Gordon got more time and attention, both men struggling with bad choices made with good intentions. Lucius Fox got shorter shrift this time out, but there was a nice wink to that, when he ushers Bruce Wayne down to the lab to show off some gadgetry, just for old time's sake. And I'm always surprised by how deftly Nolan draws some of the minor characters, like Matthew Modine's Deputy Commissioner Foley, and Selina's gal-pal sidekick, played by Juno Temple. The exhaustive amount of detail in some of the visuals, from the Gotham police uniforms, to a football stadium full of fans decked out in Gotham Rogues gear, to the Stock Exchange sequence, all point to an enormous amount of effort being expended on this film. And it's all dazzling to look at and take in.
I just wish the story had been more solid. But I think about all the Batman movies that Christopher Nolan could have made instead – the Riddler-centric retread of "The Dark Knight" with Leonardo DiCaprio that the studio wanted, or the too-faithful comic book adaptations that the fans wanted – and I'm glad Nolan went in this direction. Even though I thought the film bit off more than it could chew, "The Dark Knight Rises" was an honest and worthwhile attempt to take the Batman mythos somewhere new. The results are severely flawed, but still well worth watching and debating and puzzling over.
As a point of comparison, I prefer "The Dark Knight Rises" to "Batman Begins" by a wide margin, and the Nolan "Batman" trilogy as a whole to every other superhero film series ever made.