Christopher Nolan's 'Batman' Movies: A Refresher Course
All you need to do to rise to the occasion is to have watched the previous two films, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, about a thousand times like we have… or simply read our easily absorbed recap below.
Think of it as Reader's Digest, but with more grappling hooks.
Bruce Wayne Enters the Ninja
At the start of "Batman Begins" Nolan reintroduces us to the Caped Crusader mythos "Memento"-style, flashing forward and backward through Bruce Wayne's formative years as young boy Bruce sees his parents killed, then, years later, college dropout Bruce (Christian Bale) watches their killer, Joe Chill, murdered by the mob. With his plans for direct revenge thwarted, his childhood sweetheart, Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes), convinces him that vengeance is not the answer to the crime that destroys other innocents on a daily basis. No, the answer is justice… sweet, juicy justice.
Armed with a newfound sense of direction, he abandons his life of privilege as a billionaire trust fund goodie goodie to scratch his seven-year itch to train himself as a muscle-bound instrument of justice. He hitches a ride on a ship and leaves Gotham City for Asia, where he scrounges a living as a street urchin and petty thief, learning the ways of criminals from the inside out.
A mysterious man with a weird goatee named Ducard (Liam Neeson) finds Bruce in a Bhutanese prison beating up his fellow inmates. Ducard offers this desperate young man a Groupon for badass ninja training at his mountain monastery, where he winds up becoming his prized student. Only problem is this dojo is actually a training ground for a terrorist group called The League of Shadows bent on destroying civilization. Bruce says, "F**k that noise," and blows up ninja village, sparing Ducard's life.
The Prodigal Son Returns
With his mad martial arts skills honed, Bruce returns to Gotham City ready to fight crime with the help of his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine). Using his vast fortune and a weird form of aversion therapy to his childhood fear of bats, Bruce transforms a leaky basement cave into a crimelab and gets Wayne Enterprises science guy Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to outfit him with all the latest gear, like grappling hooks and armored tanks and stuff. Fox is basically James Bond's Q, but with excellent narration skills.
With his crazy black costume, The Batman emerges as the new scourge of the underworld, handing mob boss Carmine Falcone over to trustworthy Police Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman). With criminals running scared and Rachel Dawes now Gotham City's assistant district attorney, things are lookin' up for the good guys.
The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Liam Neeson Itself
Just as things are looking good, Arkham Asylum's resident nutjob psychopharmacologist Dr. Jonathan Crane, a.k.a. The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), initiates a plan to unleash a fear dust into Gotham's water supply, thus driving the populace insane and making them hallucinate and whale on each other until they can't shop at Dress Barn anymore. Whose plan is this? Ducard, also creepily known as Ra's al Ghul.
Ghulie Ghul burns down Bruce's mansion, then unleashes his ninja goons and spreads fear through the poor side of town known as The Narrows, but, before it can reach the classier areas, Batman swoops in and saves the day using Gordon and his Batmobile. He and Ra's have a final showdown where the student has now become the master, and the master gets blown up in a subway car. Is he dead? In the comics Ra's al Ghul has a mystical pool called a Lazarus Pit that keeps him from dying. We'll have to wait until "Dark Knight Rises" to see if said magical Jacuzzi works, but we do know that Neeson makes an appearance in the film.
Bring On the Knight
"Batman Begins" ends with Gordon now firmly on Batman's side, a bat signal on the roof of the police department, and hope on the streets. Well, except for a guy wearing facepaint and robbing banks.
At the start of "The Dark Knight," it's been a year, and this Clown Prince of Crime affectionately known as The Joker (Heath Ledger) is still robbing banks and evading both cops and the mafia. Batman and Gordon are more concerned with taking down the mob's cash supply, working in conjunction with the sparkling new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who is also gettin' busy with Bruce's former squeeze Rachel Dawes (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal this time). Batman's temporary lair while Wayne Manor is being rebuilt is a secret bunker disguised underneath cargo freight.
Screw Extradition Laws
When mob accountant Lau (Ng Chin Han) absconds with the mafia's money then flies to Hong Kong for safety, Batman takes it upon himself to flaunt jurisdiction and bring the guy back to Gotham in an elaborate "Mission: Impossible" style snatch-and-grab operation involving a plane, a big hook, and a boat filled with Russian ballerinas as a smokescreen. With Lau in police custody, the mob gets desperate and turns to The Joker to get Lau, their money and Batman's head on a pike.
The Killing Joke
Unfortunately, the city's crime lords didn't count on The Joker having his own agenda, which is to spread absolute chaos throughout all of Gotham. Cops, crooks and innocents alike all feel the wrath of The Joker as he threatens to kill more people every day Batman does not reveal his identity to the public. When Harvey Dent goes in Batman's place, The Joker attempts to bazooka him into the next life, but Batman swoops in on his beefed-up hog (The Batpod), saving Dent and capturing this psychotic Ronald McDonald. Little do they know that getting caught is exactly what Joker wants, as he orchestrates the kidnapping and murder of Rachel and Harvey as yet another distraction for his own escape from the Major Crimes Unit with Lau in tow.
An Ace in the Hole
Batman saves Dent, but not before the district attorney is badly burned on one side of his face, disfiguring him into a living embodiment of man's duality, not to mention looking like a really nasty infection. Cortizone Cream, stat! Dent is so distraught at Rachel's death that when he is confronted by The Joker in the hospital, he flips a coin to decide whether the man who did this to him will live or die. Joker survives, blows up the hospital, and unleashes this new villainous Harvey Two Face on the world.
Dent finds the cops who betrayed him and either kills them or doesn't, depending on the coin flip, then goes after gangster Sal Maroni (Eric Roberts), killing him in a car wreck before he even had a chance to enter "Celebrity Rehab." Meanwhile, The Joker threatens to blow up two ferries, one containing prisoners and the other innocent citizens, unless one of them blows the other up. Batman gets Lucius Fox to use an elaborate, morality-bending device that spies on every cell phone in Gotham to track down the Joker's whereabouts. Lucius is not fond of this Patriot Act-esque machine, but damned if it doesn't work, with Batman saving hostages, nailing The Joker, and the ferry citizens don't blow each other up after all. The End.
Or not. Harvey Dent kidnaps Gordon's family and threatens them at gunpoint, but Batman knocks Two Face off a building and saves them. He decides that the only way to keep Dent's prisoners locked up and not demoralize the public is to take the fall and say he killed all the folks Harvey did. At Batman's behest, Gordon and the police force chase after Batman as he rides off on his Batcycle into the darkness.
So what loose ends does "The Dark Knight Rises" need to tie up from these two films? It picks up eight years later, with Bruce Wayne in Howard Hughes-style seclusion, The Batman just a memory (a really cool memory) and the city prosperous. Then Bane and Catwoman come and muck things up, turning Gotham upside down in a wave of carnage. This looks like a job for Batman!
We'll surely find out what happened to Ra's al Ghul and The League of Shadows, maybe get another cameo from Scarecrow, and get a good look-see at the improved foundations of Wayne manor's Batcave. And, of course, the eternal question of whether Batman or not will finally score a hot babe. Good luck, buddy.
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