I should say up front that I've never really gone for Batman, at least not the Nolan film version. I like a bit of splash and spandex with my superheroes, not this tortured, gritty, brooding thing, this tone of relentless angst. I am willing to concede that Nolan's first two Batman movies were excellent films which brought a new seriousness to the genre and all that jazz, and were extremely well cast and filmed. I just didn't enjoy them very much. Given that it's just taken me a week to drag myself into eventually watching the second half of The Dark Knight Rises, I'm forced to add that in addition to its unrelenting grim, this wasn't even a particularly good film quite apart from its failure to pander to my personal superhero proclivities.
This wasn't a good script. Honestly, the plot made no damned sense: if you're going to nuke the hell out of Gotham, why spend three months letting it descend into anarchy first? And I have absolutely no sympathy for those ridiculous jail set-ups where you can see the sky but can't climb up to it. With everyone on board with the escape idea and the amount of material they had down there, they could have rigged something to get them all out a long time before Batman dropped in. Likewise, Gotham city police's collective tactical abilities are apparently in the stunned herring class. Also, the twist reveal of the bad guy was spottable a mile off, if only because the sudden daddy-issued femme fatale to the hero's gonads has become something of a cliché in the modern action movie (its recurrence in James Bond films is probably what gave me the sense of acute déja vu).
And the dodgy script is a problem, because it undermines what's actually a hell of a good cast. I was thinking about it during one of the interchanges between Commissioner Gordon and Blake: Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are highly accomplished actors, as is Bale himself; even Anne Hathaway was pretty good in this role. But the more grounded reality of the Gordon/Blake scenes makes you realise how badly the script serves Batman himself, who's a two-dimensional cypher as Wayne, and an awkward caricature as Batman. The gravelly voice is really bordering on the ridiculous. And his motivations make no damned sense. Bale is a good actor, but the script gives him zip to work with. Bane falls into the same trap: dehumanised by the mask, rendered absurd by the voice, and devoid of consistent motivation. He was only scary at odd moments. (Also, complete waste of Tom Hardy. Sorry.)
As the crowning iniquity of the script, I think Nolan lost his grasp completely when he tried to have his tonal cake and eat it too. The movie purports to be all serious about corruption and the failure of systems and ultimately, about sacrifice; the gritty tone of the movie is necessary for its attempted confrontation of failure and loss, and victories clawed out only at horrible cost. Batman's absolute identification of himself with the city is a powerful trope in the films; if he had hauled the nuke out to sea and gracefully perished, I would have had a lot more respect for Dark Knight Rises. But the giant set-piece fake death thing which allows him to start afresh somewhere else is straight out of a completely different and far more up-beat paradigm, the essentially comic-book unreality (no-one stays dead!) which Nolan's films have so self-consciously denied throughout.
This film went further with the industrial-military feel than the previous ones, and lost, to me, some of that beautifully visual sense of the Gothic cityscape. It also failed dismally, to my mind, to render Batman himself as a compelling physical presence: even with the film's insistence on injury and damage, that costume doesn't quite cohere, appearing stiff and awkward and the cape simply absurd. I did like the bike's cornering capabilities, though. Cute. And Catwoman's headset ears. But that's symptomatic: the bits that worked were the ones that were fun, that nodded, even momentarily, to the comic-book identity of the myth. The rest was an overblown and badly-contained wallow in its own sense of angst.