I had tempered my expectations for this, and they were met. The Dark Knight is one of my favourite films ever, but otherwise I am not much of a Nolan partisan, finding their work minus Heath Ledger impressively constructed but emotionally distant.
I was thinking a little bit about why that is. It's strange, because the Nolans have had the opportunity to work with very talented actors. Michael Caine, for example, has a couple of really intense scenes in the new Dark Knight Rises film. You cannot fault his performance, I think, but there is something in the way it is presented that robs it of impact, at least for me.
A film can be seen as being composed of five elements: plot, character, setting, theme and style (mise en scène might be the more appropriate term, but it is very pretentious. And French). The Nolans are master mechanics when building plot, and Inception might be the best showcase for their proficiency in this field. The Dark Knight Rises is also extremely busy plot-wise, despite the fact that it's near three hours long. Every scene is briskly efficient with moving the story along, and character-building is fitted around the necessity of getting from point A to B. So the swings in character arcs are sudden, and not always properly earned. When Alfred's tearful goodbye came up, I wasn't really connecting with the emotional content of the scene, just thinking the film needed to get rid of Alfred now. Plot takes precedence over character.
Of the five elements, plot is the least important for me. If a film has complex characters, intelligent themes, a well-designed world and an original style, I'll be ready to forgive lazy plotting, if I notice it at all. This is why the Nolans' intricate story constructions fail to dazzle me the way they do many others. I found Inception frustrating because it was a lot of hard work (I had to see the film twice to really understand what was happening) and it didn't leave me with very much at the end of it.
Just as an aside, I didn't much like the decision to end Inception on a question, which I thought was a tongue-in-cheek switch-around designed to break the fourth wall and get the audience thinking about films as compact inception operations. This is an interesting point, sure, but it also dissolves the film's dramatic resolution. I'm quite glad that Dark Knight Rises settles for a punchy statement instead.
Quite a lot of the discussion around The Dark Knight Rises has revolved around plot-holes, actually. I cannot add anything to it apart from to say that all the Batman films feature hair-brained Bond villain ridiculous schemes, and I admire the way the Nolans stay true to the ludicrous nature of the superhero genre whilst keeping the tone dark and gritty — a well-executed balancing act between realism and pulp.
What is interesting is that these plot-holes are standing out for people, despite the fact that the other films could be picked apart just as easily. I think this may be due to The Dark Knight Rises not managing to present a coherent theme which justifies the loopy story it is composed of, as The Dark Knight did. This is discussed in greater detail here and here, and I don't see the need to go over the same ground. Just to say that the exegesis around the use of images that recall Occupy and Al Qaeda is not facetious. Or if it is, the film-makers are to blame for putting the allusions there without making sense of them. The film ends up presenting a really weird axis of evil, worthy of the deranged Frank Miller. I suspect, as Film Crit Hulk does, that the Nolans were not consciously filling their film with right-wing paranoia. Their focus was squarely aimed on the character of Bruce Wayne and giving him a heroic, happy send-off. The Dark Knight Rises is about fan service and spectacle, and the suggestive allusions were thrown in with little thought.