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Venom Optional: Early Thoughts About Christopher Nolan’s Bane…

When it was first announced last week, the choice of Bane as a Batman villain seemed a little… odd. I had reckoned that Nolan might opt for a modern villain who had yet to appear outside of comics or would return to a classic Batman villain, but I didn’t reckon he’d pick a modern villain who had already appeared on the big screen. Though I honestly doubt we have to worry about Nolan rehashing Batman & Robin, he seemed an odd choice for the sequel’s villain. However, after giving it some thought, he doesn’t seem such a bad choice. The fact that Tom Hardy is playing him certainly helps.

I'm kinda glad Nolan stayed away from the big guns...

Bane was a character who first appeared in 1993. The character grew up in a South American prison, serving out the sentence his fugitive father had earned. While there, imprisoned for the sins of his parents, the child worked out a bit. He came to read of Gotham and its protector, and he came to hate it. When he ever escaped from his dank cell, he would seize control of Gotham and destroy its iconic caped crusader.

Bulking up on the steroid Venom, Bane escaped to America and began a battle of wits against Batman. He broke all the freaks out of Arkham and let the traditional villains wear the Dark Knight out. Then, when Batman was pushed past the point of exhaustion, Bane emerged – snapping the Caped Crusader’s back and leaving him for dead. As ever, leaving the hero alive is always a bit of a punk move, and Bane did eventually pay for it.

Everybody walk the dinosaur...

Lately, he’s appeared as more of an anti-hero than an outright villain. He’s assumed the role of a sort of pseudo-father to the group of almost-but-not-quite reformed supervillains in Secret Six. He’s spent a bit of time working out his daddy issues, wrestled with his drug problem and even managed to ride a dinosaur. Life has been pretty good to Bane, when you consider the fate of most late additions to Batman’s rogues gallery. Mr. Zsasz, the Black Mask and Killer Croc seldom get any respect, while Bane gets to appear on all sorts of really iconic superhero covers.

So, enough about comic book Bane. What about Nolan’s version? It’s worth remarking that Nolan’s villains are all reasonably close to the comic book templates, without being perfectly in line. Jonathan Crane is a psychologist who studied psycho-pharmacology and has a fixation on fear. Ra’s Al Ghul still leads the League of Assassins, but isn’t explicitly immortal. The Joker is still a psychotic clown focused on Batman. Two-Face is Harvey Dent, the one time hero of Gotham who had a tragic fall from grace. Even Mr. Zsasz, in his forty-odd seconds on-screen, still has his distinctive “tally marks” visible on his neck. Nolan has never taken a character ridiculously “off-model” (as Tim Burton did with the Penguin in Batman Returns or Joel Schumacher did with Two-Face in Batman Forever).

I know nothing of Bane, but I know I want him to have a moustache...

On the other hand, each of the above examples does have minor back story changes – more closely adopting the mindset and core archetypes of the classic characters then their literal personas – so I would expect some changes. The fact he’s being played by Tom Hardy (and the fact the film is shooting in Europe) would suggest that he will not be Latin American. I imagine he’ll still be an “outsider” and a foreigner, but I’d be surprised if he came from South America.

Other changes I would expect include the steroid Venom. I’m not sure if it’ll show up at all, but it probably won’t be quite as ridiculous as it is in the comics – I don’t expect a “feeder system” for example, just a syringe. I’m trying to figure out, though, what thematic point giving Bane a steroid addiction would serve. Would it mirror Bruce’s addiction to his dangerous lifestyle (which, one can assume, he’s only throwing himself deeper into after losing Rachel)? Will Bruce, after all those scars (psychological and physical) start using the steroid himself? After all, the drug was introduced before Bane, in a story where Batman himself became addicted.

At least we can put all our speculation to bed...

Similarly, I imagine he won’t spend too much time behind the wrestler-inspired mask. Much like the Scarecrow in the first film, I imagine he’ll spend a great deal of time wandering around as a (highly muscled) normal guy in a suit. I think that, by casting Hardy, Nolan is suggesting that Bane’s physique will be more realistic than in the comic books (or the Schumacher film), so I imagine Hardy won’t be “augmented” – at least not to a ridiculous degree. Of course, I am willing to be proven wrong on this – as Nolan did use special effects on Two-Face, but I think that was the exception rather than the rule.

More interesting than that, however, is how Nolan will use the character. The best Batman films use their villains to juxtapose against the heroes, to compare and contrast. While the Joker was defined by just how distinct he was from Batman – an agent of chaos rather than order, one with no faith in mankind’s capacity for good – I imagine Nolan will instead focus on the similarities (while playing up the differences). Almost like the way that he use Ra’s Al Ghul to explore Batman’s conception of justice and the Scarecrow to explore his exploitation of fear.

What's on the cards for the next villain?

Bane, like Batman, is a victim of parental abandonment. It literally made him the man he is today. Whereas the loss of Bruce’s parents drove him to vengeance against crime, Bane’s abandonment made him bitter and twisted. When Bane seizes control of Gotham, he uses the existing infrastructure to do it. He literally turns the city against Batman. Unlike the Joker, Bane doesn’t seek to destroy the social structure of the city – he hopes to use it to control it. This is in sharp contrast to Batman as well – Batman also hopes to control the city, but by working outside the system and trimming any wayward branched. Bane simply wants to be on top.

Given the way that Bane uses social systems rather than flaunting them as Bruce does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the role – as some have suggested – of the new leader of Ra’s Al Ghul’s League of Assassins. There is, of course, precedent for this in the comics, seen as Ra’s Al Ghul once favoured Bane as heir to the League of Assassins – though that lasted a remarkably short time. I do suspect, however, returning to Batman Begins perhaps seems a bit too nostalgic for Nolan. Nolan respects what came before, but is fascinated with something new.

"The Knight is always darkest just before the dawn...

I suspect, instead, that the movie will contrast Bane and Bruce using Gotham’s existing social systems. Batman is an outsider, despite having grown up and knowing the city, but Bane is, despite never having lived here, able to turn the entire city against his foe. I don’t know if he’ll use legal or illegal means. I can see Bane, however trying to harness the remains of the mob for his own end – rather than trying to destroy them, as the Joker did. Thus begins the true age of “super crime”, where the mob and the freaks are not at war – but the freaks control the mob.

Indeed, despite Nolan’s suggestions that this is an entirely original storyline, I wonder if The Dark Knight Rises bears any resemblance to the third instalment he had originally planned. Would the Joker have figured in his Bane and Catwoman story. Would Bane have attempted to manipulate the Joker against Batman, while the Joker did his own thing? I guess we’ll never know.

"What did we do to get excluded?"

I think Bane works as an “anti-Batman”, but the problem is that (unlike so many other “anti-Batman” villains) he doesn’t have a persona to retreat into like Bruce Wayne. Perhaps the movie will focus on how weak Batman’s Bruce persona is getting after all the loss and suffering, and Bane will exist to illustrate why Bruce needs a second life in order to stay balanced. Or perhaps Selina Kyle and Catwoman exist to keep Bruce engaged. Still, it’s hard to imagine a guy wandered around in a sharp suit calling himself “Bane” as he interacts with mobsters and cops. I’m curious as to how Nolan will do it.

Still, I’m more than cautiously optimistic.

10 Responses

  1. Man you know ur batman. Will be interesting to see what he does with the character, imagine hell be a totally different bad guy to nolans joker.

    • Yep. Thanks for the compliment. I’m just a nerd with too much time, I think.

      If Nolan’s Batman is about systems – social institutions and how they interact – I imagine that Bane will be about controlling them as much as Ra’s Al Ghul and Scarcrow were about corrupting them and the Joker was about destroying them.

  2. Your take on Bane being a foil for Bruce’s own addictions and outsider status seem right on target with where Nolan is going in the series. I hope you’re right.

    • One of the best things about having a blog is that you can look back and occasionally go “I was right!” and (far more often) “what the hell was I thinking?” I suspect Nolan will throw a massive curveball in there, but I am really looking forward to it. As much as I was anticipating the Riddler or the Black Mask, Nolan handling Bane is much more fascinating.

  3. I believe Nolan will stay close to the story of bane but for the touch of reality I think for strength Bane will have sonething like an exoskeliton super suit. Much like the DARPA strength suit and for those who don’t know about that, it is alot like Iron mans hydrolics in his suit that gives him super strength.

    • That’s an interesting idea, and not outside the realms of possibility. But I would be a bit concerned that it might seem a little bit like “Batman vs. Iron Man”, if Bane is using cybernetics.

  4. Several months after the fact, i’d like to throw in my two cents. In a ‘grounded scenario,’ as often with Nolan films, i’m not imaging Bane turning into the Hulk or Robocop. I’m imagining him injecting some PCP-like substance (venom) that turns him into some batsh*t angry, highly delusional onslaught. Think Bill Goldberg + MMA + chemically induced rage.

    • Yep, I don’t think that Nolan will jeopardise the verisimiltude of his Batman cycle by giving us a CGI-augmented Bane, nor a robocop one. But it will be fun to see.

  5. So apparently in March Gary Oldman let this slip in March:

    “I think it’s a villain from one of the old, old, from way back from the old comics. It is a Batman villian… It’s not going to be the Joker.

    If I told you who the villain was, they’d kill me.”

    Since Catwoman had already been announced by then, it can’t be her, and obviously Bane is the opposite of “old” in terms of Batman villains… so any guesses on the final baddie? I’m thinking Hugo Strange – he’s a chemist, so maybe he develops the steroid that produces Bane? Be kind of a let-down for people who don’t know the canon, but I think Strange would be an interesting nemesis.

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