*Just watched the entire trilogy in one sitting to celebrate the release of TDKR on DVD. No, I don't have a life, nor the energy to write anything about it, seeing as it's 3am. Luckily I do have some guff I wrote a while back about the brilliance that is the character arc of Bruce Wayne from when I thought I was doing a film module at university this year (it turned out to be about music in film).*
Rises is pretty much the perfect end to the trilogy. The arc of the League of Shadows is revisited and truly finished, Gotham is left in a state where it can take care of itself, and most importantly to me, Bruce Wayne finally deals with the idea of Batman: what it means to him and how it has affected him.
Bruce Wayne and Batman
The trilogy is very clearly cut into the three stages of Bruce's relationship with Batman. There are three clear stages of development for the character: Bruce Wayne the Child, Bruce Wayne the Batman, and finally Bruce Wayne the Adult. In Begins, Bruce's emotional development is halted with the death of his parents. He is incapable of dealing with it and runs away at the first opportunity (going to college), and only returns once he has what he thinks is an opportunity for closure: killing Joe Chill. When he's robbed of that opportunity he runs again, this time only to find a purpose he thinks will help solve his problems. He creates the alter ego of Batman initially to deal with the problem of the League of Shadows. Despite telling himself it's just for this problem, he retreats into Batman and Bruce Wayne the child doesn't return. We see a fake Bruce appear; taking supermodels out to dinner, massive parties and generally being a playboy. These aren't him it is the start of Bruce Wayne becoming the mask. Taking the joker card at the end is a signal both to the audience and Batman himself that he knows this isn't over, despite the LoS being dealt with.
In The Dark Knight, we see that Bruce is gone completely. His infatuation with Rachel exposes the lack of emotional development since his childhood. There isn't ever anything sexual suggested in their relationship, he is simply in love with her because she's the only connection he has left to his happy childhood, outside of Alfred. Not only does he want to go back to how it was, but he isn't even after an adult relationship with her. Rachel's speech on the balcony, and her letter to Bruce, demonstrate how much Batman has taken over. When she is gone the last shred of Bruce the Child is gone and there is only Batman and the mask he puts on for the public. When he finds out that Rachel was going to wait for him (having not got the letter) he tries to find redemption by giving up the Batman mantle by sacrificing himself to save Gotham, by taking the fall for Dent.
But once we reached The Dark Knight Rises we can tell that it didn't work for him. He is still Batman, it's just he's locked himself up. Once again, he tries to deal with the pain of loss (of Rachel this time) by running away, this time hiding in his house. The emergence of Bane and Selina Kyle (who is extremely important for Bruce/Batman's development) gives him purpose again and he leaps at it, once again allowed to be himself (Batman), and also to use his Bruce Wayne mask again. It's a very telling fact that, on track Kyle down to the masquerade ball, Bruce is the only notable character there not wearing an actual mask, because his face is his mask. This return to his old ways prompts Alfred to reveal the truth about Rachel, which is where the descent down the far side Mount Mental Health Problem begins and Batman starts to become Bruce Wayne again, but this time Bruce Wayne the Adult. From here everything dominoes, he loses everything that has previously defined him: he loses Rachel's love, he loses Alfred, he loses his money. With everything crumbling around him, he does actually manage to start something like an adult relationship with Miranda. It might not be the most mature relationship, but it's definitely a more adult attract than that of Bruce to Rachel, clearly signposted by the fact that Miranda and Bruce actually have some sort of physical relationship.
Many have said that TDKR feels like two films crammed into one, especially with two rebirths of the character. I'm not convinced. The first one, where he becomes Batman again, I think is just him being able to act on what he's wanted to for for 8 years. His true rebirth comes in the pit. Here, the seed is planted that the deathwish, his lack of fear, he's had ever since his parents died (prepared to throw his life away murdering Joe Chill and his readiness to die as the ultimate sacrifice as batman) is his weakness rather than his strength. Batman/Bruce takes this and uses his fear of seeing Gotham burn to escape the prison. But that's not the full lesson, he's still prepared to die for Gotham. But Selina Kyle saves Bruce from Batman, and it's she who finally splits Bruce the Adult from Batman.
When Talia literally stabs batman in the back, it's the final straw for him. The only thing he gained (Miranda) while losing everything else, is gone and there is literally nothing left in Gotham for him. He's knows that he can't stay, and more importantly that Gotham needs the Batman to leave, to serve the real role that the Harvey Dent lie did, to die for the protection of the city. He isn't needed any more because he has inspired Gotham: Gordon is able to stop the bomb, John Blake is able to rally the escape attempt from the island and stand up the the heartless cops on the bridge, and the cops were no longer living in fear of the criminals (as they were in Begins and TDK) and they actually charge fearlessly into gunfire to prove so. the only thing Batman is needed for is to get rid of the bomb after defeating Bane. He can't beat Bane that easily though, until Kyle turns up and blasts him away without difficulty, something he could never do (thanks to his rules). It's proved that batman isn't the only one capable defeating these guys, and also that he has inspired those who might seek selfish ends to rise up and do what's right. After that, he only has to get rid of the bomb. The kiss before he flies off seals the deal, even though she's been in his head since the "You've given them everything" scene. He realises the true lesson was not that he should have fear of failing, but that he should fear death because he can always take control of his life and be happy. If Kyle had never originally spurred him into action, or got into his head that he (the AdultBruce/Batman hybrid that returned from the pit) didn't need to give everything he probably would have fulfilled the fantasy that Alfred was so worried about. But instead he uses the autopilot and bails, runs away with Selina and finally becomes the happy adult that he deserves to be. Batman is finally gone: Gotham has been inspired and needs him only as a symbol as to what any person can do, and Bruce himself has moved on and grown up. It's a truly great character arc for the three stages of him and works really well to give Bruce the closure that he will never get in the comics (thanks to the nature of the medium).
*And here's another load of guff that I penned at the same time, but this bit's just some innane ramblings specifically about the last film*
To focus more on TDKR, I was left a bit muddled on the whole politics of it. Nolan's trilogy's been very closely tied to the post 9/11 world and dealing with terrorism. The whole idea of "do the ends justify the means?" and and how far a man is easy to see in TDK with the cell phone thing, it's a massive invasion of privacy in the name of national security. It follows on into TDKR with the
That all creates a very anti-establishment, pro-Occupy Wall Street/civil uprising sort of feeling y'know? It might not be what you agree with but that's how it seems. You might not agree with Bane's methods (the bomb that will be triggered if there is interference with the upsetting of the status quo), but his cause is kind of noble. But wait, it isn't because the bomb is going to go off anyway regardless and all the hope of social revolution was a lie. Couple this with the portrayal of this social uprising as incredibly violent against the 1% (kangaroo courts, dragging them into the streets to beat them) and the message becomes incredibly muddled. Are the those uprising righteous or not? The only message you can sort of make out is not to trust those who present themselves as ideological leaders: both Bane and the establishment (Gordon, Mayor Garcia, Harvey Dent and, by proxy, Batman) lied to achieve their aims. If any political message is there, it seems to be that moderation is key: go too far right and you get Batman police-state, and too far left and you have a similarly oppressive anarchist system with a power vacuum (ready to be exploited by the likes of Bane, or even Scarecrow).
Again Selina Kyle becomes the central figure in the argument. She's the only one who doesn't have an extremist viewpoint and is willing to change her mind. It's ingrained into the ambiguous nature of the catwoman character. At first she's all for the idea that "a storm is coming", but once it arrives she's wandering the wasteland lost and uncomfortable (looking around the wrecked apartment that "used to be someone's home"). She largely represents that the common, reasonable man can be just as powerful as those in power. She wears as mask, but doesn't hide behind it in the way others and she's far from a force of nature like all the other "super" characters in the series. She is the common man that eventually saves Batman and ultimately tips the balance in aid of the good side.
*Note: I'm happy to admit that my thoughts on the Selina Kyle character may be influenced by just how disarmingly pretty Anne Hathaway is.*