The stable of foes that have lined up for their chance to take down The Batman is vast to say the least. And the most infamous of this band of lunatics would have to be The Joker. In Christopher Nolan’s world The Joker rose from obscurity after bringing down the judicial system, taunting the criminal underbelly and terrorising the Gotham citizens – not to mention defacing (literally) the body and soul of Harvey Dent, Gotham’s White Knight. Nolan had his work cut out if he was to find a villain to carry a sequel, and while the halls of Arkham Asylum are full of worthy candidates, was there really anyone who could truly serve to elevate this legend to the next level? He would need someone highly intelligent, someone with super strength, someone scary as hell on earth. He would need Bane.
To help define Bane and place him in the Batman world I will hold on to the comparison with The Joker a moment longer. Throughout their history, and especially in The Dark Knight, Joker fights a primarily psychological war with Bats. He hopes to break Batman’s will and his belief in the people of Gotham. This is highlighted by torture scenes and elaborate schemes with explosive-ridden ferries. Bane on the other hand is a pure physical force; that is the threat he offers to Batman. While The Joker will take a beating and think nothing of it, Bane will simply dish it out. His presence alone is terrifying. There are moments in The Dark Knight Rises where Bane appears to simply touch or rest his hand on somebody and they are paralysed with fear. And when he is finally called into action nobody is able to stop him – not even Batman.
There is one scene above all which Rises will be remembered for. Batman is lead into the sewers by Catwoman and confronts Bane. But while most combatants would fear Batman one on one, Bane calmly awaits his adversary, allowing his henchmen to watch on from the wings. The scene results in the iconic image of Bane breaking Batman’s back over his knee. I found this very hard to watch. Batman is usually given a clear disadvantage to overcome and still expected to triumph. But even heading into the confrontation, fit and healthy, there is a sense of dread. No punch can inflict damage on Bane, no armour can withstand the onslaught and no gadgets can turn the fight to his advantage. Batman is broken and banished to the depths of Hell on Earth.
Not only does Bane’s physical presence dominate the film, but there is also a highly intelligent plan in place. Take some time and go over the intricacies of the build up, from stock exchange larceny to boardroom power plays to police force rat traps, Bane is able to manipulate and organise those around him until he takes over Gotham City as its new omnipresent warlord. It is no fluke that he achieves his goal and he appears infallible even in the face of a resounding victory – his stirring speech atop an abandoned taxi to the prisoners of Blackgate, or the one in front of a stadium of people both come out naturally, oozing charisma. He becomes the leader of a city and the general of an army, confident and fearless. It is this intelligence and focus that differentiates Nolan’s Bane from the lumbering Venom-infused drug addict seen in the comics, and it adds another layer to the complexities of his character.
Bane maintains a menacing legend, highlighted by his time in the notorious prison and his being exiled from The League of Shadows by Batman’s former mentor Ra’s al Ghul. These events mirror Batman’s own formative days in prison and the League, but in their battle Bane distinguishes himself as a child of darkness. Batman was born out of privilege into the tainted city of Gotham while Bane was born in depths of Hell on Earth. He saw no light until at the age of eight when he rose from the shadows.
His affiliation to the League of Shadows underlies his assault on Gotham. He is tied to the deceit that Batman proposed surrounding the death of Harvey Dent. After learning that Dent was falsely hailed as a hero to inspire the people and incarcerate the bulk of the criminal underbelly, Bane feels all the more justified to free them and to recruit them into his own army. It harks back Batman Begins when Ra’s al Ghul seeks to reduce Gotham to rubble in order to restore a worldly balance. The city had gone too far, evil and corruption was rife, only a horrible lie could stop it from self imploding. It was Bane’s duty to correct this injustice.
Despite all the qualities of Bane’s badness – his presence, strength and cunning – it is his effect on Batman that stands out most. After being beaten in the sewers Batman is taken to the prison where Bane was raised. Crippled and ready to die, Batman begs for death, but instead is left to suffer. It is at this point that he is forced to rediscover his fire. Batman seems inspired by the legend surrounding Bane, and works himself up to the point where he is stronger of mind and body than ever before. He returns to Gotham and confronts his nemesis, but this time he is devising the plans and rallying the troops. There is a moment when the bridge lights up with the Bat symbol that Bane finally appears troubled. Batman had achieved what we learn Bane could not – he risen from Hell on Earth and he returned to retake his city.
There isn’t a moment that Bane is on screen that the viewer is not left in awe. He is a frightening figure both strong and highly intelligent. But unlike the exaggerated comic book original, Bane is still a human. It is the trademark realism that Nolan brought to the whole trilogy and it manages to humanise Bane. You believe he is human and that makes him all the more fearsome. Bane’s rise to the top of Gotham, outwitting and outsmarting everybody from Batman to the Wayne Enterprises board to the entire police force (bar one), is an enthralling journey and one that will leave him immortalised in film just as he already was in the comics.
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