It won't be arriving in cinemas for another seven months, but the final instalment of Christopher Nolan's near-universally adored Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises, is already one of the most talked-about films of the decade.
In recent days, the usual web-driven chatter surrounding the superhero movie has risen to a deafening roar, after the first six minutes of the film were shown before IMAX screenings of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, in select cinemas in the US, UK and Canada.
Picking up the story after 2008's gritty and realistic The Dark Knight - the film that earned Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar for his twisted portrayal of the Joker - Rises is expected to become 2012's biggest earner by far when it finally arrives in July, making both Nolan's and Batman/Bruce Wayne actor Christian Bale's final entry into the multibillion dollar franchise.
"Nolan and Bale have really done an incredible job of reviving the character of Batman. They've demonstrated how good a superhero movie can be," says Arafaat Ali Khan, the director of public relations for the Middle East Film and Comic Con, a convention to be held in Abu Dhabi next year. "This movie has to be absolutely spectacular -that's what people are expecting. There's always a hype machine with superhero movies, but with Batman it's almost organic because there are so many fans."
The action-packed six-minute prologue - now the subject of thousands of exuberant blog posts - focuses on the film's chief antagonist: Bane. In the comics, he's depicted as a near-giant former wrestler, whose immense strength is matched only by his diabolical mind. Despite being one of Batman's lesser-known foes, he is chiefly remembered among readers for breaking the Caped Crusader's back in a 1993 storyline. Played by Inception star Tom Hardy in Rises, the prologue sees mask-wearing brute Bane - the subject of an international manhunt - handed over to CIA agents in a remote airfield, only to dramatically turn the tables on his captors in mid-flight.
Critics have reported being stunned by the high-concept action sequence and praised Nolan's commitment to capturing effects in-camera, rather than with the use of conspicuous computer graphics. But one element of the prologue has received far greater scrutiny than any other - and the reaction to it has been less than positive.
Referring to Bane's voice, Movieweb wrote: "You can't understand anything he is saying". Ain't It Cool News added a little more detail: "Honestly, I caught probably half of Bane's dialogue, and every colleague I spoke with had similar difficulty understanding him. I hate to cause problems for Nolan at this stage of the filmmaking process, but if Bane sounds like this throughout the film, it could be an issue."
While it's likely that the villain's audibility will be fixed by July, the reaction must have caused concern for Nolan, a noted filmmaking perfectionist. Although such a high-profile franchise picture is already almost certain to become a box-office smash, the likelihood of it impressing critics and fans is less assured.
Also giving some Bat-fans cause for concern is the sheer number of characters lined up for The Dark Knight Rises. As well as Bane, Catwoman is set to make her first appearance in Nolan's trilogy (played by Anne Hathaway), while Marion Cotillard is widely tipped to be portraying Talia Al Ghul, the daughter of Batman Begins villain Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson). Also set to star is Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a Gotham City policeman, who some have speculated could become the hero's sidekick, Robin.
While nobody would begrudge Nolan a line-up of top international talent, the director would surely want to avoid Rises's cast becoming bloated - something that proved terminal for Spider-Man 3. With a roster of returning talent that includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman, this could be a real possibility.
Thousands of fans have already watched the prologue and the new trailer that was released on Monday, so expect anticipation for the film only to increase in the months leading up to its release.
Although concerns still abound about the chief villain's vocalisation and the crowded cast, most fans agree on one thing: there's still nobody they'd rather see helming a Batman movie than Nolan.