Regardless of your opinion on the merits of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, I think we can all agree that Bane, the villain of The Dark Knight Rises, was desperately in need of a film redemption.
After Joel Schumacher’s face-palming take on the character in the-movie-which-shall-not-be-named (alright, Batman & Robin) comic fans cried foul, but their cries were lost in the deluge of all the other criticisms pointed at the movie (the biggest of which, simply that it exists). Batman & Robin still exists today as something of a cautionary tale for superhero movies. It hangs from a noose outside of Hollywood’s borders, warning onlookers of the dangers of changing creative direction too many times in a film franchise and stretching a tired series for the sake of merchandising. Even Schumacher himself (an otherwise pretty decent filmmaker) famously disowned Batman & Robin, pledging to personally refund anyone who spent money on the movie and didn’t like how it turned out (read: everyone, bankruptcy).
But Schumacher’s greatest sin in Batman & Robin? His portrayal of the character Bane.
At the time, Bane wasn’t a very well-known member of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery outside of the comic books. Even by the time of The Dark Knight Rises, the character didn’t stand out among Batman’s villains as much as Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, or The Joker. Indeed, early internet speculation pitted Christian Bale against some incarnation of The Riddler, a well-known Bat-villain once portrayed by Jim Carrey in Schumacher’s Batman Forever.
Still, Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and Doug Moench created the character of Bane for 1993′s Knightfall storyline (with some input from longtime Bat-authority Denny O’Neil) as the ultimate adversary for Batman. He was portrayed as highly intelligent: a devious strategist and tactician who spent a year studying Batman for weaknesses, ultimately deducing his secret identity in the process. His cunning was matched only by his brawn, augmented by a super-soldier-ish serum called “Venom,” which increased his already impressive physical strength to dramatically superhuman levels. After staging a prison breakout, pitting Batman against his entire Rogue’s Gallery at one time, Bane watched as Batman was whittled away into exhaustion from the wave of chaos and super-villainy that gripped Gotham, intervening at the very end to fight Batman, beat him, and infamously break his back.
That’s the ultimate foe we met in the comics. What we got in Batman & Robin was barely recognizable.
Schumacher’s neutered version of Bane was presented with some biographical information intact. True to the comics, he was a prisoner, though he was altered into a relatively unspectacular (and skinny) serial killer used by Dr. Jason Woodrue (Floronic Man of the comics) in an experiment which injected the “Venom” serum into his body, transforming Bane from a 130-pound weakling into a massive physical threat (portrayed by the late Robert “Jeep” Swenson). For the rest of the film, Bane served Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy as a lackey and henchman, grunting and garbling his way through the film like a dumb beast. The only thing he was capable of saying, apparently, was his own name, “Bane.” He was more Frankenstein’s monster than Professor Moriarty and only battled Batman once (and briefly) in the film. He was ultimately defeated by Robin (Chris O’Donnell) and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone) in a less-than-spectacular climax.
Bane’s depiction was one of the many panned aspects of the film, but most mainstream audience members never really understood why.
Enter Christopher Nolan’s take on Bane. Former prisoner: check. Brilliant: check. Physically imposing: check. Venom serum: didn’t fit with Nolan’s realistic take, so it was axed in favor of an anesthetic mask (an interesting spin that didn’t compromise the character, in my opinion). Gotham prison riot: check. Puts Gotham in peril: check. Deduces Batman’s secret identity: check. Breaks his back: check. Says more than “Bane” throughout the course of the film: check.
With all of these things done right, I don’t even mind that Bane ended up, again, being only a henchman in the end.
A lot of people on the internet take issue with Bane’s silly voice. Some critics have said that, despite Tom Hardy’s talent, he just wasn’t as good as Heath Ledger’s Joker. All of this is true, but these people are missing the real point here. Christopher Nolan took a great villain from the comics, seamlessly wove him into the Nolan Bat-verse, and redeemed the character from his embarrassing depiction in Batman & Robin. It’s not even like the bar was set so low that any fresh depiction of Bane would have been satisfactory. Nolan’s version of Bane is fantastic because he actually got most of him right. Bane in The Dark Knight Rises completely honors Bane of the comic books, and now audiences know the character as he should be known. Comic book fans, rejoice.
So, thank you, Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight Rises had its flaws, but you did us comic book nerds a solid with your treatment of Bane. Some people might nit-pick, but I am grateful that you did your research and honored the source material. That is why Nolan’s films are so successful. They take the basic concepts and just inject them into the zeitgeist. With many more superhero adaptations on the way, other directors could take a few pages from Nolan’s playbook. You don’t have to compromise your “artistic integrity” to satisfy the source material’s authenticity. As The Dark Knight Rises proves, it is absolutely possible to have your cake and eat it too.