NOTE: I try to avoid spoilers, but one can always infer anything from anything, so be warned, ye Sherlock Holmes deductive reasoning types...anyway...LET'S DO THIS S**T!!
If I had to sum up The Dark Knight Rises in one word - and I don't, but I'll be damned if I'm not going to try - it would be simply: monumental. If you go away from is review with one thing in your head, let it be that: monumental. How the film achieves this is, of course, the rub of this piece, but let's say it again: monumental.
For a film which, at least initially, wasn't really believed in - both by its creators and the public at large - Christopher Nolan has lost none of his meticulous approach to film-making, and, alongside the rest of the cast and crew, has crafted a film that not only completes a trilogy with a bold flourish, but serves as a monument to the Batman mythos, both in terms of this particular story, and the legend as an entity.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the story is that they've positioned it such a way that The Dark Knight can actually exist on its own. The only thing you need to know with regard to the second movie is that (actual spoiler alert) Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes are dead - nothing else carries over, and what does is conveniently replayed via flashback. This allows them to rather cleverly sidestep the problem of matching a matchless movie, and allows them to get on with finishing the story.
In these terms, the Nolan brothers, along with David Goyer, simply couldn't have done a better job. The story they've created is expansive, and yet never forgets where it came from, taking story threads from the first film and intertwining them with threads lifted straight from the comics. It forges new backstories for most of the newly introduced characters, and whilst the web produced might not sit comfortably with fans of the stories that this draws on, it's still an elegant stripping down of the mythos that fits perfectly - both tonally and thematically with its predecessors - and is fully self-contained.
Particularly impressive is the adaptation of Bane's character into the franchise. Whilst Ledger's Joker was a terrorist who 'just wants to watch the world burn' - representing our collective fear of the unpredictable nature of the psychologically unbalanced - Bane here is a force that's driven by belief in a cause, and a hatred of Batman so deep that you can smell it in his voice.
It's not quite revealed why until the denouement, but the tension generated by the build-up is capitalised on brilliantly, and that culminates in a scene that,as it progresses, builds a horrible sense of dread - and this is a monument to the characters and stories that have been crafted, that you feel such genuine concern for those on screen.
So having created a story that is essentially a duology with a Joker-based interlude in the middle, you have to set about filming it. And this, my friends, is where the truly spectacular stuff starts going down.
The action chops that Nolan honed on Inception are in full show here, and it's all captured with Wally Pfister's jaw-dropping IMAX cinematography. Set pieces bristle with iconic imagery throughout, and the fist fights are abrupt but bone-crunchingly satisfying, filmed with a broader stroke here than in the previous two.
Ferocious physical performances from all those involved also give the fights a harder, more immediate sense of threat than the previous films - and this is no small part of the above-mentioned dread-filled sequence. Tom Hardy in particular provides a predatory stalk to Bane that, coupled with his deeply unsettling vocal register, makes for a villain that is entirely different, but exactly as elementally terrifying as the late Mr Ledger's agent of chaos. Bale is still both a good Bruce Wayne and a good Batman, if only for the fact that the duality of the character has been mostly jettisoned. The scene-stealer is Anne Hathaway, though, smouldering dangerously as Selina Kyle, and pulling off a feline physicality without a single reference to cats. Then there's Joseph Gordon Levitt. To discuss his performance is to ruin the fun of it, so just keep an eye on him, yeah?
If there are problems, they arise only due to the scope of the vision. Despite never truly boring, the story sags a little in the middle under the weight of its own plot threads, and takes a little while to pull itself back together. One appearing character feels almost crowbarred in, and it is occasionally a little too pacily edited for its own good.
It's perhaps a little bit early to brand the film as the best of the series - a rewatch is in order, just to make sure it did all add up. But what's here is a terrifically exciting movie that only threatens to bore in a slightly overlong, Batman-free middle section, and considering the film is 2 hours and 45 minutes long, that this is only a threat is something of an achievement. The IMAX cinematography and the imaginative set pieces are the highlights, but it's also buckling at the seams with iconography that'll stand the test of time. See this monument. See it soon, and in as big a screen as you can.