CONTAINS SPOILERS. CONTAINS SPOILERS.
Let's be absolutely clear about two things right from the off. Firstly, it's impossible to discuss this film in anything other than the most basic terms without revealing some of the plot material. If you don't want any plot spoilers at all, if you want to know as little as possible, then stop now, go and see it, and then read the reviews. Personally I find it's the best way. Secondly, this final part of Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy is emphatically not a masterpiece, nor anything close. This is not to suggest for one moment that it's a terrible film - far from it - but it is a disappointment (not so much after The Dark Knight but certainly after Batman Begins, and I did rewatch both films this week to prepare).
The Dark Knight finished on a downbeat, with Batman taking the fall for Harvey "Two-Face" Dent's crimes in order to preserve Dent's image and reputation as Gotham's White Knight. Eight years on, Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne has become a reclusive Hughes figure, closeted away in the East Wing of the rebuilt Wayne Manor and speaking to no-one. But it's not the arrival of the sinister anarchist Bane (Tom Hardy) that drags Wayne back into the real world, it's catburglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) cracking his safe - but why? The trail leads to gangsters, the Wayne Enterprises boardroom and a Third World prison pit, into which Wayne is unceremoniously flung while Bane unleashes revolution and apocalypse on the streets and the citizens of Gotham....
As with the previous movies, the technical craft of The Dark Knight Rises is absolutely flawless. It looks fantastic (Nolan's regular DP Wally Pfister and, perhaps more importantly, shooting on film rather than digital), it's not overedited into a flurry of incoherent subliminal imagery, the big name cast deliver even in smaller roles (way down the cast list you still find recognisable faces such as Aiden Gillen, Tom Conti and William Devane). And at this level of film-making the effects work and action sequences are excellent. Hans Zimmer's score does the job, I suppose, though it's a fairly dull listen on CD (I'm playing it through Spotify as I type). If there's a problem with Bane, it's his Sean-Connery-through-a-megaphone voice effect: not Tom Hardy's fault, but the sound mix loses some of his dialogue although that apparently varies from cinema to cinema with differently calibrated sound systems; the IMAX is apparently clear as daylight while my ordinary Cineworld did lose some of it, though not a lot.
You could query how much of Bane's rabble-rousing is meant to satirically reflect the Occupy movement, with its storming of the Gotham's Wall Street and revolutionary kangaroo courts of injustice set up to overthrow the rich and powerful regardless of their moral worth - but aren't Occupy supposed to be the good guys? Bane sure as hell isn't. You could ask how Wayne - not Batman - is able to get all the way back to Gotham, apparently in a matter of days, from his third world imprisonment and get into the city when all the access routes have been blown or blocked and Bane has vowed to set off a nuclear explosion if anyone breaches the city limits in either direction. You could also ask how Bruce Wayne is able to do pretty much anything beyond ordering a dry white wine in a poncey restaurant given that his knees are knackered right from the start, the cartilage having been totally worn away in the antics of the first two movies. You could even ask why in the early stages the cops are more obsessed with apprehending Batman than catching the bloke who's just trashed the Stock Exchange.
At a hundred and sixty four minutes, The Dark Knight Rises is ridiculously overlong and it does drag, particularly in the first hour when it's bringing everything together and setting the rest of the film up. It also does away with several key characters, including Batman himself, for too long. And as with the other two films, it is desperately in need of some levity and humour against the gloom and misery. But in its latter stages it unleashes a couple of dazzling plot reveals out of nowhere that completely reconfigure the villains' motivations, before supplying us with a partly happy ending that probably rules out a direct sequel but manages to leave a door ajar for some kind of spinoff, though I wonder whether that may be a sop to the studio bods rather than any indication of intended continuation.
Batman is such a dollar machine that Warners would be idiots not to reboot at the first available opportunity. But personally I'd rather they left it now, partly because I'd like something other than masked superheroes for our blockbuster movies, and partly because even if Batman hadn't been filmed enough already, it's certainly been filmed enough now. With the conclusion of this trilogy, the bar has probably been raised too high for anyone to pick up the baton with any reasonable expectation of success; for all their faults these are now the definitive Batman films. And The Dark Knight Rises is flawed: it's overlong, too grim, it isn't as enjoyable as Batman Begins (which was also a touch overlong and lacking in humour), and there's also a sense that the sheer level of epic destruction on show is overdoing it even by the standards of modern blockbusters. I didn't hate the film by any means: it has good things in it and it has superb things in it, but overall it is something of a disappointment.