I almost don't know where to begin with The Dark Knight Rises. Like many, I was blown away by The Dark Knight and especially by Heath Ledger's performance in it. Sure, after a while there were holes to poke in the script and supposed political messages to interpret (more on that later) but my initial reaction was so strong that those things didn't matter immediately.
I'm not sure that I felt the same way about The Dark Knight Rises. Perhaps it was the impossibly high expectations the film was surrounded with. Perhaps it was the terrible current events that accompanied the premiere. Perhaps I was just being contrarian and stubborn. I just didn't quite have the same sense of excitement and awe with this film as I did with its predecessor.
That said, there is a lot working in its favor. Its casting, for one, was just about spot-on. I enjoyed the performances of all the new characters, though I'll be honest--most came from actors whose previous work I already enjoyed immensely. The new characters fit into Nolan's Gotham nicely, filling out an already strong cast.
With Batman Begins, I was so excited to have a "realistic" take on a superhero story I'd known for so long. Years later, however, I realized that realistic isn't what I want out of my superhero stories. I like the humor and the outlandishness. I like the superpowered heroes accomplishing superhuman feats. For this reason, I really liked this year's earlier The Avengers. I realized that I'm not looking for "realism" or some swipe at it in these types of stories.
That was for the best with The Dark Knight Rises. As I said above, I found myself looking for flaws--but most of those I found could be written off if I was no longer looking for a realistic movie. I am somewhat disappointed in the repetition of the villain's motive (and a rather silly motive it is, to be honest) but at least his manner of accomplishing it was more interesting.
The film definitely surprised me; though some of the twists were easier to see coming, the larger machinations of the plot were a mystery to me and I enjoyed them as they came up. I wish Catwoman was more than just a plot device (though I quite enjoyed Anne Hathaway in the role) and that a bit more time was spent on developing relationships in general (and, I'll admit, a little less on the rather graphic violence) but overall the movie was a strong one.
I've read some theories that The Dark Knight was designed to be a
justification of George W. Bush's actions during his presidency. I
don't know that I buy into this, though the parallels are certainly
present. The overt political angle is harder to deny in The Dark Knight Rises, however. I don't know how much current politics consciously played into the scripting and filming of this movie, but it was certainly subconsciously present with the Occupy Gotham mantra of its villains. To be honest, this rather dampened my enjoyment of the film. I don't think it made the film weaker, by any means--I just think that I personally was less able to enjoy it than I would have been without the politics present.
Like every movie, there is an audience to which it will not appeal and, believe it or not, this is perfectly alright. I'm always amazed at the vitriol people can spread simply because someone disagrees with his or her opinion on an artistic venture, but perhaps that's a subject for another day.