I am sure that most of you are aware that this Friday sees the release of The Dark Knight Rises, if you aren’t aware, than you must be a masked vigilante who has been hiding from the authorities for the past 8 years. Or you’ve been living under a rock. With two days left until the highly anticipated release is unleashed, and with me being once again in a position where I don’t know when the hell I’m going to be able to see it (that’s right people, give me your sympathy), I thought I’d give you all my guide on how best to prepare for the experience of Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Batman trilogy. You may wish to go in completely fresh, experience the film for what it is, but if you wish to find ways to psyche yourself up or learn more about certain aspects of the movie, then here are some ways in which to do so.

Read Knightfall…

I don’t know how well versed you are in terms of Batman comic-books and graphic novels, but allow me to recommend some issues and novels from the past that are relevant to the context of The Dark Knight Rises. The first is a very influential story arc from the early 1990’s, 1993 to be exact. The arc is entitled Knightfall, and it is the most famous arc in Batman’s history concerning the character of Bane, as it features the highly iconic moment of Bane ‘breaking The Bat’ leaving Bruce Wayne as a paraplegic. Most of the 90’s Batman comics weren’t particularly memorable, at this time the highest standard of Bat entertainment was the brilliant Animated Series, but Knightfall is certainly an exception. It addresses the question of whether only one man can be Batman; is it just the image or is Bruce the only man who can truly BE Batman? And it provided Bane with an everlasting legacy as The Man Who Broke The Bat. There has been much speculation as to whether this particular element will be incorporated into Nolan’s movie, it seems they may address it in some way, which they rightly should, considering that it is a major factor as to why Bane is an incredibly dangerous and formidable foe for Batman. The arc of Knightfall not only demonstrates Bane’s Venom-enhanced strength, but also his frighteningly powerful intelligence. He is a man with a plan, and is determined to see it through to the exact detail. This is what we need to see in Tom Hardy’s Bane, and I have the utmost faith in Nolan to respect Bane’s background and character traits perfectly established in the likes of the Knightfall arc. If you physically can’t get your hands on a copy, a little birdy told me that there may be PDF Torrent online somewhere or other. Not like I downloaded it or anything. Ahem.

Read No Man’s Land…

Another comic, this time from the late 90’s, that if the trailers are anything to go by, Nolan has taken inspiration from for TDKR, and that comic is No Man’s Land. Once again an extended story-line arc for the DC vigilante which saw the US Government evacuating and isolating the city of Gotham, leaving many innocents to fend for themselves against the criminals and gangs that have over-run the city. If you look closely in the trailers for TDKR, you will notice shot in which two bridges explode. Now, one may assume that this is an act of terrorism conducted by Bane, however when viewed upon with No Man’s Land in mind, it forces you to question as to why and more importantly who is cutting Gotham off from the rest of the world. Does Bane’s control over Gotham force the Government to cut off the city for the greater good, leaving only an army of cops to fight against Bane’s legion of criminals? Or is it an act of terrorism? It is an intriguing thought, and I cannot wait to discover why exactly the bridges are being destroyed. I doubt many more elements from No Man’s Land shall make it into TDKR, as it was very much a cross-over story–line, combining characters from the Superman universe as well. However, it does delve in to some very dark places that TDKR could easily cover throughout the course of its 165 minute run-time.

What to listen to…

This one is a no-brainer, and I love Empire even more for providing it. I am of course suggesting that you head on over to Empire Online to listen to the full score for TDKR, composed and conducted by the one and only Hans Zimmer. In fact, Empire’s whole Trilogy celebration is worth a look, as it spans so many details of the Nolan trilogy, from the actors, to the costumes, concept art, vehicles, you name it. But the highlight has to be their exclusive stream of Zimmer’s soundtrack. I am sure that you are all aware how good Zimmer is (if not then what are you doing here?), as he has supplied some of the greatest soundtracks of recent years (Inception, Sherlock Holmes, Pirates of the Caribbean, to name but a few), and his soundtrack for Nolan’s epic conclusion is suitably grand. On solo duties following his collaboration with the great James Newton Howard on the first two installments, Zimmer’s score retains the themes that made those scores so memorable, but also creates some new, incredibly ominous and spine-tingling cues for what could be the Caped Crusader’s Darkest Hour. And don’t worry, none of the tracks titles have any spoilers, so there is no way you can ruin aspects of the film for yourself. I rarely listen to scores before seeing a movie, I do prefer to experience it for the first time whilst it is doing its job on the screen. However, in this case, it was just far too tempting not to preview a new score from Zimmer, let alone the whole bloody thing! I do not regret my decision, as it has merely increased my anticipation for the release of the movie. Which could turn out to be a bad thing if I still don’t get to see it for quite some time.

Re-watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

The most obvious preparation task that you should under-take; re-watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight Rises seems to be finally breaking the mold by being a third superhero movie that actually maintains the quality of its previous installments, if the reviews are anything to go by. We have also been promised a closing chapter of an over arcing story-line, a very self-contained interpretation of the character. Elements that have been left open from the two previous instalments shall be addressed and wrapped up, so we’ve been promised anyway. Batman Begins is a lot better than you remember it, having been over-shadowed a great deal by the epic crime saga that is The Dark Knight. Begins is a dark, brooding origins tale that builds to an incredibly satisfying reveal when Bruce finally dons the Cowl. It suffers from the lack of a consistently threatening villain, but that is where The Dark Knight excels.  Heath Ledger’s Joker is still frightening and hilarious in equal measure, I don’t believe we’ll ever see a better portrayal of The Joker. He is archaic, unpredictable and a driving force for the movie. Yet, the film itself is a perfectly constructed crime epic that delves into the moral ambiguity of Batman’s responsibility, counter acted with the brilliantly written arc of one Harvey Dent. TDKR certainly has some strong films to match up to, but with the same dedicated team on board, I have the utmost faith.

Revisit Batman Returns and, wait for it, Batman & Robin (bare with me)…

Batman Returns and Batman & Robin are two films which feature two characters that are new to the Nolan Universe; Catwoman and Bane. For a lot of fans, the definitive performance of Catwoman comes from Tim Burton’s 1992 Bat sequel, Batman Returns. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the feline fiend, and the character is more Burton-esque than she is lifted from the comics; she is bizarre but in an incredibly committed and entertaining manner. Batman Returns is a film packed with beautiful production design, but unfortunately the story makes naff all sense. However, Pfeiffer is simply fantastic, but as I stated, her portrayal is a far cry from the Catwoman from the comic-books. Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle seems to be much more in keeping with the traditional and iconic comic-book image of Catwoman, a morally ambiguous character with an agenda against the privileged citizens of Gotham. Early buzz describes Hathaway as a scene-stealer so I am more than excited to see what she brings to the character, it needs to be radically different from what Pfeiffer did with the character, which should be a given, considering how different Burton and Nolan’s movies are.

Now, you may completely disregard the notion of ever revisiting Joel Schumacher’s franchise destroying 1997 installment, but in terms of viewing TDKR, it could serve as a rather fun comparison. Batman & Robin was the first time we saw Bane on the big screen, and in this interpretation he was nothing but a word-less thug, who merely did the bidding of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy. He was nothing like the comic-books had established him to be so effectively in the likes of Knightfall. Tom Hardy’s Bane looks to be an incredibly different beast. Nolan may have removed the Venom aspect of the character (understandable), but he seems to have embraced both the physical and intellectual threat that Bane certainly poses. Not only is re-watching Batman & Robin a chance to see how badly Bane was interpreted, but it also reminds you how hilariously bad this movie actually is. Seriously, it surprises me every-time how bad it is, making it a rather fun experience if you are simply willing to laugh at it. Which is not very hard to do at all.

That brings my Spotlight (Bat-Signal, if you will) to an end. All of you who are seeing The Dark Knight Rises this weekend, please enjoy and let me know how it is. But if you reveal any spoilers, on your life be it, as I shall not be responsible for my actions. Christopher Nolan has made a massive contribution to the legacy of Batman, and the final installment in his trilogy deserves to be all it has the potential to be. So, Bat-fans, until the inevitable reboot, I think we do have a definitive big-screen Batman in the form of Christian Bale and Nolan’s world. Now, prepare to rise.