Read our in-depth review of the film here.
Yesterday was a big day for fans of superhero cinema. Along with photos from X-Men: First Class (and an interview with Kevin Bacon which suggests he’s having a lot of fun, so I likely will too), Warner Brothers released some more photos of Green Lantern and a little bit of news concerning The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy will be playing the steroid-fueled villain Bane, while Anne Hathaway will be playing Catwoman. I’ll just let that sink in.
Catwoman was a fairly obvious choice. The Dark Knight killed the only female lead in Nolan’s Batman saga, so the ensemble needed a big female role. At the same time, I figured a straight-forward romance would be too easy and casual for Nolan, and that he wouldn’t be introducing any female sidekicks (Oracle, Batgirl, Huntress), so it had to be a female villain. And, this being Nolan’s world, the villain wouldn’t be as over-the-top or supernaturally powered as Poison Ivy (and Harley Quinn is too linked to the Joker), so that left Catwoman.
I’m excited to see how Nolan handles Catwoman. I liked the portrayal of the feline femme fatale in Batman Returns, but she’s also a character who lends herself well to a noir aesthetic. She fills that classic noir stereotype of the morally ambivalent thief, who is neither good nor evil (and, yet, sometimes, both). Given how morally compromised Nolan has made the Caped Crusader, I think that he’ll relish working with Catwoman – who is neither angel nor devil. Just please don’t make her a prostitute, like Frank Miller did in Batman: Year One while reimagining her origin as a gritty noir tale.
Bane is certainly the more controversial of the two. Bane is, in case anybody is unaware, a relatively new addition to Batman’s gallery of villains. He emerged during the nineties Knightfall crossover as a new threat to Batman, engineering a mass breakout of Arkham Asylum to grind the hero down – before stepping out from the shadow to break Batman’s back himself. Naturally, Batman got better – but it’s still one of the defining chapters in the great Batman saga. Bane himself has varied in portrayal and sophistication since then. Sometimes he’s a tactical genius who just happens to be super-strong, other times he’s almost just dumb muscle.
Viewers familiar with the character from Joel Schumacher’s god-awful Batman & Robin will probably find it hard to associate “tactical genius” with the lumbering villainous sidekick in a gimp mask who followed Poison Ivy around like a lovesick puppy. This bore no resemblance to the actual comic book character. I’m hoping that Tom Hardy’s version of Bane will be more challenging and well-developed. Compare Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Two-Face (with all the triumph and tragedy) to that of Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever (with all the scenery chewing and grunting). That’s what I’m hoping for.
Personally, I was expecting Nolan to stay away from the “classic” Batman villains – though I did hold out hope for the Riddler. Given the work he’d done with the more modern Ra’s Al Ghul (introduced in the seventies) and even working in a cameo for Mr. Zsasz in his first film (introduced almost the same time as Bane), it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the director opt for a more modern villain.
That said, I’d almost expected Nolan to maybe use the Black Mask as a villain, to serve as a thematic counterpoint to Bruce. A rich orphan wearing a silly mask, the Black mask is basically an evil Batman and dying for a trip to the screen. I’m actually quite delighted he went with an even more modern choice instead of pandering to nostalgia. Both Two-Face and the Joker date back to the start of Batman’s career, so it’s probably for the best to take a wider sampling of Batman’s iconic villains.
In fairness, Bane fits the tapestry Nolan is working quite well. In the comics, the mastermind attacks at Batman’s lowest ebb – which he engineers. However, the end of The Dark Knight put Batman at his weakest point. Bane snapped Batman’s back like a twig, but I don’t expect the confrontation to be as physical here. I imagine we’ll hear “I will break you” uttered as a solemn promise rather than a boisterous threat.
From a thematic standpoint, I like the idea of Bane and Catwoman as a duo (just, you know, probably not working together – too many memories of the last time Bane teamed up with a Batman villainess). The Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul were perfect thematic counterpoint to Batman in Batman Begins because they both manipulated fear in pursuit of their agendas – a mirror to Bruce’s Batman persona. Two-Face in The Dark Knight was a man who had lost everything and found refuge in an alternate persona, like Bruce. The Joker was the flip side of the coin – a villain who didn’t play by the rules for a hero who didn’t play by the rules.
And so, Bane and Catwoman make the perfect thematic counterparts to Batman, representing perhaps the darkest and most primitive driving forces – sex and violence (guess which is which). As such, they represent perhaps the perfect reflection of Bruce – if Batman is truly at his lowest ebb, and Bruce is even more damaged. It marks an interesting thematic progression (from villains who counter Batman to villains who counter Bruce), but I think it makes sense in the context of the trilogy.
Some might note that Bane is very “comic book” for Nolan’s universe, what with all the tubes and the gimp outfit and the being the size of a small to medium van. these are just cosmetic issues, much as Ra’s Al Ghul’s immortality was a cosmetic issue when the character appeared in Batman Begins. Maybe he’ll use a more restrained and realistic form of steroids. Maybe he’ll work out a bit. Either way, Nolan knows better than to present his villain as solely a physical threat. The Joker worked so well because he picked at Batman conceptually, pushing him to compromise – Bane will likely work because he will push Batman to breaking point (emotionally, psychologically and physically).
I’m looking forward to this. Though, as I’ve said before, Nolan could have announced Crazy Quilt as the villain and I’d still be on-board.