Of all of the individual segments of my Dark Knight Rises Review, this is probably the one I’m looking forward to the most. In this review I’ll cover what I thought of Batman’s greatest adversary: Bane. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE MOVIE.
Light cannot exist without darkness, and there can be no heroes without villains. However strong the rest of the movie may be, most superhero movies succeed or fail based on the strength of their antagonist(s), and Nolan’s Batman films are no exceptions. Indeed it was the strength of the Joker’s character which truly set The Dark Knight apart in the cinematic landscape, and many were dubious as to whether or not lightning could strike twice for The Dark Knight Rises. With such great shoes to fill, fans were perplexed at first with Nolan’s choice of Bane as Batman’s final foe. Bane has so far been a relatively unknown quantity in the cinematic Batman universe, his only appearance coming from a less than compelling thuggish-sidekick role alongside Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy in the shameful train wreck of Batman & Robin. As more and more material was released however, we gained a glimmer of hope that perhaps Bane might at least hold more than just a candle to Ledger’s Joker. Now that the film has been released, there have been a great deal of variances in people’s opinions of how Bane stacks up to The Joker, with the general consensus being that Bane is an admirable adversary for the caped crusader but not quite as compelling as his predecessor. In the following review I’ll explain my opinion on why I believe that the two characters are each equally compelling in very different ways.
I’ll begin with my opinion on Bane himself, and I’d like to note that I have very little knowledge of the comic book material the character was based on. When we are first introduced to Bane, we are in the same boat as pretty much every other character in that we don’t know much about who he is or where he comes from. All we know is that he is a force to be reckoned with, between his imposing physical stature, his army of dedicated mercenaries and his eyes that burn with a sort of controlled malice. One thing that instantly sets Bane apart from past villains in the series is that the majority of his face is covered by a mask which bears the resemblance of large, bared teeth. Audiences are no strangers to masked villains, and often it can be the case that the inability to view a villain’s face limits a lot of what the actor or actress portraying that villain can really do with the character. Other times though, the physical symbolism of the mask itself and a truly striking voice can combine to create some of the most chilling villains of all time (aka Darth Vader). In Banes case, it is the latter that rings true. Apart from being given some spectacularly ominous lines from the screenwriting team, Bane’s voice has the same sort of breathing-mask quality as Vader which, when combined with the ambiguously accented vocal work of Tom Hardy, creates a highly effective sense of menace. Unfortunately, this effect is more present in some scenes than in others. The scenes which utilize it the best are the several exchanges Bane shares with Batman, particularly the scene in which Bane has just dropped Batman into the prison he grew up in and is detailing the punishment he has in store for him (I’ll dig into this very significant scene below). On the less effective side, many of Bane’s louder speeches to the people of Gotham City lose a lot of the character’s impact. There is a reason why Darth Vader rarely spoke in louder than a cold baritone, and that reason is that when you raise the volume and pitch of that sort of Breathalyzer-style voice it comes across more like any other person speaking over a crappy PA system.
Who is Bane?
Let’s set aside his portrayal for a moment and take a closer look at Bane as a character. One thing people have been complaining about is a “lack of complexity” in his character in comparison to past Batman villains, and this is a criticism which I full-heartedly disagree with. I would instead argue that while a past character like the Joker may have been riveting in his mannerisms and his utter devotion to chaos and madness, Bane is riveting in his complete and utter feeling of power he exerts over everyone around him. He plain and simply dominates his surroundings, which is nothing new when he’s set next to most characters but becomes incredibly powerful in his confrontations with Batman. Here is a hero which, while he may have been outmatched in terms of manpower or deviousness, has never met a foe that he can’t best in a physical confrontation. Bruce Wayne’s fighting style has never been elegant, but he has always come out on top in every contest of brute strength. Enter Bane, a man rippled with muscles, trained by Ra’s Al Ghul and unrestrained by the tolls of age and injury Wayne has built up over the past decade of crime fighting. Combine those qualities with the later revealed fact that he is essentially unable to feel pain and it is no surprise that his first face-off with Batman feels incredibly one-sided.
Why does he do it?
Finally, we come to Bane’s true motivations, which aren’t fully realized until the climax of the film in true Nolan style character development. Essentially, throughout most of the movie we are led to believe that Bane’s mission is twofold: To avenge the death of his former mentor and to finish the job that he started of bringing the corrupt metropolis of Gotham to the ground. In this second part though we reach a bit of a dilemma, being that since Ra’s Al Goul’s failed attempt to destroy the city the citizens of Gotham have united under the banner of their fallen White Knight, Harvey Dent, to rid their city of the sort of organized crime and corruption which had been the centerpiece of Ra’s Al Ghul’s judgment of the city’s moral pollution. Like the Joker, however, Bane makes it his duty to show Batman that the people of his beloved city are just as dirty and selfish as they always were. While the people proved the Joker wrong in the Ferry scenes in The Dark Knight, they fail to hold up that same standard of civility following Bane’s dishonestly righteous Coup. Herein lies Bane’s true punishment for Batman, yet as Bane finds out to his own ruin there is a big difference between despair and anger in the way a man reacts to traumatic circumstances.
SUPER SPOILER ALERT: I’ll touch on Bane’s relationship with Talia Al Ghul in my next segment, but for now I shall cut myself off here. Did you think that Bane was an effective final villain for our caped crusader? Let me know if the comments section 🙂