You don't need to be a comics geek to appreciate "The Dark Knight Rises," but it helps to know a few things about Christopher Nolan's bat-universe
We won't know the final numbers for a couple of days, but it's safe to say that a whole lot of people are going to see "The Dark Knight Rises" and very soon.
And while true die-hards may prepare for the final installment in director Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Batman trilogy by rewatching "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" and poring over all things batty, others won't have the time or the inclination to be quite so obsessive.
You certainly don't need to be a comics geek to appreciate "The Dark Knight Rises." You don't need to have read "Knightfall" (the 1993 comic series that introduced the villain Bane) or "The Dark Knight Returns" (Frank Miller's 1986 series about an aging Batman coaxed out of retirement).
In truth, you might be better off prepping with Charles Dickens, whose French-Revolution novel "A Tale of Two Cities" influenced "The Dark Knight Rises," with one of its most famous lines quoted at a key moment in the film.
But there are things that it does help to know going into this film. We'll try to avoid spoilers and just suggest what you might want to keep in mind as you sit down for the end of Nolan's and Christian Bale's very dark take on the Dark Knight.
1. Bane has nothing to do with Mitt Romney.
Bane, the villain in "The Dark Knight Rises," is a fearsome, heavily muscled and implacably evil foe with a mask strapped around his head that covers his nose and mouth with mysteriously menacing tubing.
Despite Rush Limbaugh's musings that the name of Tom Hardy's character might have been chosen as liberal Hollywood's conscious attempt to echo the name of Romney's troublesome Bain Capital, the character has existed since the 1990s and was chosen by Nolan and his co-writers Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer long before Mitt was a frontrunner.
The back story of Bane is explained in the film, and it isn't necessary to know it going in. (We learn his origins as Batman does.) But one thing that isn't communicated quite as clearly is the function of the mask that covers much of his face and distorts his voice to the point where Hardy occasionally sounds as if he's playing Sean-Connery-does-Darth-Vader.
The movie's press notes explain it more clearly: At one point in his life, Bane was so savagely beaten that he requires the massive and constant infusion of painkillers to keep the agony at bay.
We never quite see where the mask gets those painkillers from or where it puts them, but that's the story: Tom Hardy has to do all his acting with his eyes and his deltoids, because Bane is getting a constant dosage of super-mega-ultra-maximum-strength Advil.
2. Batman began with the League of Shadows.
"The Dark Knight" made more money and won more rave reviews, but the storyline in "The Dark Knight Rises" draws more heavily from Nolan's initial Batman movie. In particular, the new movie is the culmination of the Batman origin story as laid out in "Batman Begins."
A refresher course in that story: An angry Bruce Wayne loses himself in the Asian criminal underworld, intending to learn skills that will help him avenge the murder of his parents. He is taken in by Ducard (Liam Neeson) and trained in a mysterious organization known as the League of Shadows.
Ducard gives Wayne all the skills he'll need to become the caped crusader, but Wayne rebels against the League when he learns that their ultimate goal is to "restore balance" to the world by destroying the evil Gotham City. He kills the group's leader, Ra's al Ghul, and burns down the group's fortress – only to learn later that the leader he killed was a decoy and that Ducard is the true Ra's al Ghul.
Before the League can complete their plan to destroy Gotham, Batman saves the day and leaves his former mentor to die in a train crash.
That's not the last he'll hear of the League.
3. Harvey Dent is dead, but he still has two faces.
The new film also draws from "The Dark Knight" – not from the story of Heath Ledger's Joker, who is never mentioned, but from Harvey Dent, the crusading district attorney who is crippled by the Joker and turns into the murderous Two-Face.
Batman kills Two-Face at the end of "The Dark Knight," but convinces Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) that it'd be better for the people of Gotham if they blamed the masked crusader for murdering their noble hero, rather than knowing that an elected official – their "White Knight" – had gone insane and turned criminal.
That lie is a starting point for "The Dark Knight Rises," setting much of the plot in motion.
4. Bruce Wayne has a broken heart.
Another "Dark Knight" character key to the new film – though she's rarely seen or talked about onscreen – is Rachel Dawes, the assistant D.A. played by Maggie Gyllenhaal in that movie and by Katie Holmes in "Batman Begins."
Dawes is a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne's, and in "The Dark Knight" was torn between her love for Bruce and her new relationship with her boss, Harvey Dent. In the end, she was killed by an explosion engineered by the Joker, giving Bruce a push on his road to the recluse he has become in the new film.
5. Size matters … but so does sound.
"The Dark Knight Rises" is famously not shot in 3D, a format that Nolan thinks is mostly a gimmick. And as one of the movie's final credits proudly points out, it was shot entirely on film, not digital.
A good chunk of it, in fact, is shot in 70mm IMAX – and those scenes are indeed spectacular when seen on a full IMAX screen. If you have a choice of where to see it and want the biggest bang, IMAX is the way to go, particularly if you have access to one of the limited number of full-size screens that are equipped to show a 70mm print.
The Playlist has the list of true 70mm IMAX screens.
One caveat: If you see the film in IMAX, the aspect ratio will shift between full IMAX and a standard 35mm framing. The shifts can be jarring to some viewers – and at least one person figured out the ending of the film by noting which early scenes Nolan had chosen to shoot in IMAX. So maybe you shouldn't watch the aspect ratio too closely.
As important as the size of the film is, the sound is even more important. With Bale speaking in a guttural growl whenever he dons the cowl, and particularly with Bane's voice muffled, distorted and amplified by his own mask, the dialogue can be maddeningly hard to pick up unless the theater has a top-notch sound system.
In one advance screening on the Warner Bros. lot, a good chunk of Bane's dialogue was nearly unintelligible; a second viewing at a commercial IMAX theater was far clearer.
So by all means, pick a theater with a big screen – but make sure you also pick one with a good sound system.