Indisputably one of the most anticipated films of the summer, The Dark Knight Rises is expected to thrive at the box office. Fans of the first two installments, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight will likely see the film without taking into consideration what critics have to say. Yet for those that are on the fence about heading to the theater for yet another comic book movie, the early reviews can help manage expectations.

Most outlets have released overwhelmingly positive reviews of the The Dark Knight Rises, expressing praise for the film's production value, compelling performances, and contemporary tropes.

Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal cites the story's gloomy premise and depressing tone as one of the film's strengths and believes that no other film has evoked the same emotions.

This third-and, the director insists, final-installment of Mr. Nolan's series makes you feel thoroughly miserable about life, writes Morgenstern. It's spectacular, to be sure, but also remarkable for its all-encompassing gloom. No movie has ever administered more punishment, to its hero or its audience, in the name of mainstream entertainment.

Despite the grim tone, Morgensten considers the film to be a satisfying end to the blockbuster trilogy.

'The Dark Knight Rises' is notable for many things-thrilling chases, supercool vehicles, majestic vistas, an epic scale that hasn't been achieved since 'The Lord of the Rings,' a redemptive climax that brings an end, more or less, to a complex saga.

Richard Corliss of Time has gone as far as saying that The Dark Knight Rises may be the best superhero movie ever released.

The movie may not top 'The Avengers' at the worldwide box office, but it is a far, far better thing - maybe the best, most troubling, assured and enthralling of all the superhero movies, writes Corliss.

Not surprisingly, some reviews offer a far different opinion. A small number of critics have labeled the films a letdown while a couple have referred to it as bloated.

Urban Cinefile has posted two reviews that both pan the film. In the first review, Andrew L. Urban argues that too much is crammed into one movie.

In short it's a ticking bomb story, but a bloated one, full of the bling of blockbuster superhero filmmaking, from the giant stunts to the choreographed fight sequences and the large scale destruction of bridges, streets, and entire fleets of police vehicles, says Urban.

In the second review, Louise Keller brand the film a letdown but singles Anne Hathaway's performance out as one of its biggest strengths.

Anne Hathaway is the best thing in this tediously overlong, disappointing final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy, reads the intro of Keller's review.

Chris Tookey of the Daily Mail lists the film's runtime and slowly progressing plot as some of the film's major flaws.

The bad news is that it lasts two hours 45 minutes, which is astonishingly bloated - and unforgivable in a film that spends a long, ponderous hour getting started, says Tookey.

The review also accuses the film of being far too dark while taking itself way to seriously.

As with all recent Batman films, the tone is humourless, bordering on reverential. There are even self-consciously mythic echoes of Jesus Christ coming to save humanity, and it's a tribute to Christian Bale's acting that he endows the title role with agonized sincerity, even when asking us to believe in the wildly incredible.

One of the highest-profile negative reviews comes from Christy Lemire of the Associated Press, who feels that the film pales in comparison to The Dark Knight. In her opinion, this is due to the absence of Health Ledger.

There's so much going on here, though, with so many new characters who are all meant to function in significant ways that 'The Dark Knight Rises' feels overloaded, and sadly lacking the spark that gave 2008's 'The Dark Knight' such vibrancy, says Lemire. The absence of Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the anarchic and truly frightening Joker, is really obvious here. It retrospect, it makes you realize how crucial Ledger's performance was in making that Batman movie fly.

Variety's Justin Chang agrees, making it clear the new villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), isn't as threatening a character.

Perhaps inevitably, one also feels the absence of a villain as indelible as Heath Ledger's Joker, although Hardy does make Bane a creature of distinct malevolence with his baroque speech patterns and rumbling bass tones, provoking a sort of lower-register duet when pitted against Batman's own voice-distorted growl (the sound mix rendered their dialogue mostly if not entirely intelligible at the screening attended), says Chang.

The Dark Knight Rises will arrive in theaters on July 18.