This will be a short and spoiler-free review. I want to give people a chance to see it without possibly being spoiled. And I'm still forming my thoughts about it. It's so big and epic that I need to see it again to make a final judgement.
I just woke up a while ago because I spent all of last night watching the entire Batman trilogy. It was really fun to see Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the theater again. Batman Begins is a really good movie and turned out to be a great refresher for what happens in The Dark Knight Rises. I strongly recommend you watch BB before you see TDKR because Nolan draws on it quite a bit. Even after seeing The Dark Knight at least 10 times, it was still great in theater. Heath Ledger's Joker never fails to be completely riveting. I would also recommend seeing it before TDKR since TDKR deals with things that happened in TDK.
While being part of the same trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is a slightly different film than BB and TDK. The tone, both visually and thematically, is different. It's still full of Nolan's typical shots and framing. And it's done just as beautifully as ever. I really wish I could see it in IMAX. Put simply, this film is brighter than TDK, which, beyond the thematic significance, served the movie well visually.
I got to the theater and sat in my seat at about 5:15pm. And TDKR started at about 12:05am. So I was a bit worried that by halfway through TDKR my ass would be numb and I would be uncomfortable. It was probably because I was going an adrenaline. But I felt fine throughout the whole movie. That was probably helped by what I thought was good pacing. There's a lot going on but I never got the sense that it was rushed, which is par for the course with Nolan.
Nolan doesn't give you fluff in his movies. Everything that he puts on screen has a purpose for the plot and theme. TDKR is no different. The way in which Nolan finishes the movie is very Nolan-esque as well. And just like with the pacing I thought it was done well. I'll leave it at that for now. At worst this is a good movie, probably on par with Batman Begins. At best this is right up there with The Dark Knight as a great movie. After seeing TDK you realize what a challenge it was to make The Dark Knight Rises try to top it. I think they put forth a damn good effort and gave us a very satisfying conclusion to this Batman trilogy.