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JUL
16
2 YEARS

'The Dark Knight Rises': How to Prepare for the Batman Saga's End

Ahead of director Christopher Nolan's third entry into his Gotham trilogy, here's how to get caught up with the series and ensure maximum enjoyment.

Dark Knight Rises Batman Bane Fighting - H 2012
Warner Bros. Pictures

The long run of casting rumors, set photos and viral marketing all lead to this: Seven years after Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan this week submits the magnum opus that will bring his dark Batman legend to an end.

The Dark Knight Rises is an event film in every sense of the word, the crescendo of beating-drum anticipation building both the hype and onscreen action to its very peak. The director's previous installment of Batman's adventures won nearly unanimous praise, two Oscars and more than $1 billion worldwide, meaning that the four years in between the release of The Dark Knight and the arrival of its sequel has been a time fraught with anticipation for fanboys and the larger public alike.

But not everyone saw The Dark Knight -- and four years is forever ago, anyway -- and certainly, far fewer are astute comic book readers. So to prepare those who might be a little rusty on their Bruce Wayne, The Hollywood Reporter has prepared a mini-guide ahead of Friday release of The Dark Knight Rises.

1. Watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

Perhaps this is obvious, but there's no chance you can fully follow the nuances and callbacks of this film without having seen the previous two. Without spoiling anything, there are flashbacks to Ra's al Ghul, the villain in the first film (played by Liam Neeson), and plenty of references to Harvey Dent, the Aaron Eckhart-portrayed Gotham district attorney who went from noble crime fighter to bad guy in The Dark Knight. You'll get a sense of Bruce Wayne's emotional arc, and plus, who doesn't want to see Heath Ledger's unbelievable, Oscar-winning performance as The Joker again?

PHOTOS: Batman Through the Years

2. Read the comic book anthologies The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall and No Man's Land

Nolan, along with his co-writers, is said to have based the third film on these three storylines in Batman comic book lore. The Dark Knight Returns, written in 1986 by Frank Miller, is considered one of the greatest miniseries in comics history. It tells the story of an older and more brittle Bruce Wayne, retired as Batman, who must confront the pain of his lost parents and come back to rescue a city melting in the summer heat and a volcano of crime. Knightfall, meanwhile, is from 1993 and marks the first appearance of Bane, the main villain in this film (portrayed by Tom Hardy). A massive madman with an unfortunate taste in facial wear, he does bad things to Batman. In No Man's Land, Gotham is, once again, overrun by crime. That one is a long read -- a whole year's worth of books from 1999 -- but you can get a hardcover novelization, too.

3. Watch Tom Hardy in Bronson

Hardy already has worked with Nolan, in 2010's Inception, but if you want to get a good idea of what he might be like as a villain, check out this breakout film from 2008. He plays a real-life criminal, a Brit who renamed himself Charles Bronson, and matches Bane's hulking frame with The Joker's psychotic nature. Plus, the mustache is unbeatable.

4. Do your Catwoman research

The character has been both an uneasy ally and antagonist for Batman throughout history; it looks like she'll largely be the latter in this film. Anne Hathaway modeled herself after the "Golden Age" actress Hedy Lamarr, and you can watch her at the top of her game, alongside Judy Garland, in 1941's Ziegfeld Girl. Probably best to ignore the 2004 Halle Berry film Catwoman, but Michelle Pfeiffer gave a challenging performance in the black leather in Tim Burton's Batman Returns, which is remarkably now 20 years old. DC puts out a monthly Catwoman title, as well, if you want to brush up on her more recent exploits in the relaunched New 52 universe.

5. Read Todd McCarthy's review (but avoid Twitter)

You'll want to avoid spoilers that will start popping up around the internet (not to mention David Letterman's show ... potentially), but it's good to know what to look out for in the film itself. THR's chief film critic Todd McCarthy has you covered. He calls it, "A truly grand finale raises Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy to the peak of big-screen comic book adaptations."

(Bonus) 6. Buy your tickets now

The film is pacing to hit more than $160 million this coming weekend, and midnight seats already are being bootlegged. If you want in on the conversation next Monday, best to purchase tickets this Monday.