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Bane and The Dark Knight Rises - "Let the Games Begin!"
Post-Release Intro [7-20-2012]
Today marks the official release of "The Dark Knight Rises" in theaters. The following is not a review of the film, but an article that I wrote back in January of 2011. With official details being very scarce at that point, I wrote this article to serve as a general introduction to the character Bane and also to make some guesses about the film's plot. While some of my ideas didn't surface in the story at all, I wasn't too far off on a few worthwhile elements that did make the final cut. I won't give anything away for the ones who haven't seen it yet, but for those who have (and still care to continue reading), you will certainly notice where my initial guesswork receives some degree of satisfaction, particularly in the latter half of the film. And as for my opinion of "The Dark Knight Rises" after having watched it ... I will simply say that, despite whatever flaws I or anyone else may have to point out (and there certainly are a few), it is, overall, a fitting and ultimately very satisfying conclusion to Christopher Nolan's monumental trilogy.
(Pre-Release) Story Speculation from the Projectionist
Unlike most of the movie-watching world which is buzzing over the new main villain in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, I must admit that I am not at all surprised (and quite frankly thankful) about the use of the character known as Bane in the film. Search engines have been running crazy recently trying to find as much information as possible on this lesser known member of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery. I use the label “lesser known” only to classify Bane’s place in the minds of the general, non-comic-reading public. In order to shed some light on the character, I thought that I would provide some general information as well as my own speculation as to a possible story to stir up some anticipation for the final chapter in one of the best live-action comic book movie experiences in a long time.
June 2012 New Footage Extended Trailer
Personal Story and What the Projectionist Knows of “The Man Who Broke the Bat”
Presently, I am by no means a comic book expert. In writing this article, I had to do a fair amount of research to catch up on a lot of the finer points. My early years, however, were a different story. I was always more of a comic collector than anything else, though. It was my experience growing up that people gave you less hassle about things like reading comic books if your interest was justified as a financial investment rather than as a preferred past-time activity. In the hopes of one day assembling a collection which might yield a decent profit at some unspecified point in the future, I proceeded to collect everything from Superman to Ninja High School (a rather obscure title to most and one of the first manga styled comics I had read). It was during this time (I believe I was in early middle school) that I was first introduced to Bane, “The Man Who Broke the Bat.”
I remember it best because it was the end of the “Reign of the Supermen” story arc (the original story telling what happened after Doomsday killed Superman), and after doing chores, I had five dollars with which to buy a comic book for my collection.
Note: I do have the original comic where Doomsday kills Superman (Superman #75), by the way, and I recall that purchase being one of the last times that I remember seeing a mainstream superhero comic being sold in a grocery store. How’s that for a real history lesson? I’m not sure if grocery stores have started selling them again, though, since I don’t follow comics much now and don’t frequent the magazine section in grocery stores. I feel so old, man.
Back to the story. I had two worthwhile choices for my five dollars
on this particular day in the local comic store (it’s a tattoo parlor now), and
they were - the comic where the real Superman comes back and regains his powers
or the chromium-covered Batman #500, introducing the new Batman (later
dubbed “Knightquest” Batman or AzBat). Both cost five dollars and some change
after tax, and I could only choose one. I chose the Batman comic (mainly
because the fold-out cover was so cool). Judging from what Amazon says, in retrospect, I got hosed either way. Maybe The Dark Knight Rises will help raise the price on eBay.
Anyway, as far as the book’s story was concerned, I had come in during the middle of a fight between Batman’s replacement, Azrael (imagine Batman with razor claws) and Bane. I had never heard of Bane (or Azrael) up until this point because I really didn’t follow Batman comics like that. Turns out that as far as major comic events were concerned, I had missed probably the bigger Batman moment in the present story arc: namely, the issue where Bane actually breaks Batman’s back and cripples him (hence, the title as the Man Who Broke the Bat). That comic was understandably sold out locally at the time, and I had half a story in my hands. This was, admittedly, the only comic of the Knightfall/Knightquest/KnightsEnd story arc that I bought. Like I said, I wasn’t really into Batman at the time. I know how the story went, but that wasn't as important as the impression left on me by Bane. I mean, the man snapped Batman’s spine over his knee!
Bane was a very interesting character to me because he had intelligence to back up brute strength. Although extremely dangerous, Bane is perfectly sane and in control of his mind and actions—a trait that separates him from many of Batman's enemies. I later found out that the guy knew approximately eight languages (including Spanish, Urdu, Persian, and even Latin), was a self-taught science genius, had a photographic memory, and had figured out that Bruce Wayne was Batman in less than a year. With all of that talent, it boggles the mind why his previous live-action incarnation in the movie, Batman and Robin (which, like the second season of Dark Angel, I pretend doesn’t exist), was presented as a mindless, grumbling, steroid- jacked henchman to Poison Ivy.
Believe me when I tell you, Bane deserves better treatment, and I’m glad that Christopher Nolan is giving the character a second chance at dignity.
When I first heard that Harvey Dent was going to be in The Dark Knight, I thought he was being set up to be the main villain in the third film as Two-Face. I was very surprised that Nolan chose to transform him and kill him off in the same film. This time around, I was almost certain that the Riddler would get the spotlight since he is the only other identifiable villain, in my opinion besides Bane, who would remotely fit into Nolan’s gritty world as the main antagonist. Even though the Riddler would have been a stretch in many respects, he still stood a much better chance than someone like the Penguin (who’s a little too awkward in my opinion for a Nolan film).
Initially, since Bane’s introduction in the comics involved him eventually incapacitating Batman (as well as a power struggle between former Robin/Nightwing/Dick Grayson and Azrael involving who was the rightful heir to the Batman persona), I doubted whether he would be used in the movie because the Knightfall story was far too large, and Nolan had not introduced the necessary characters. That entire story could be a trilogy by itself.
In the end, though, I think Nolan needed a villain with whom people were at least vaguely (though not flatteringly) familiar. Nolan proved in Batman Begins with Ra's al Ghul and Scarecrow that he is not afraid to use villains who are more popular in the comics and may not necessarily be well known to the general public. Those choices, however, are still less obscure than someone like Dr. Hugo Strange (whom I didn’t know about as a reputable villain and frontrunner for inclusion in the movie until I read about him on a blog and did some research). Ra’s and Scarecrow were at least recurring characters in Batman: The Animated Series (a show which my generation will no doubt remember very fondly).
Venom and Why Bane Works in the World of Christopher Nolan’s Batman
Now, most people will remember Bane (at least from the Batman and Robin movie) as this larger-than-life, super-pumped savage. His physical appearance and strength were due to his use of a chemical substance known as Venom. The properties and use of Venom in the comics are a large part of what make the Bane character (at least in my opinion) a natural addition to Nolan’s dark, more realistic view of Batman.
Venom, in the books (all comic book gloss aside), is a dangerous drug. Bane did some jail time before breaking Batman, and scientists experimented on him with Venom while he was locked up. Venom is a potently addictive strength-enhancing super-steroid which, after it wears off or the user is cut off from its constant supply, causes the body to rapidly return to its original or sometimes even weaker state. At this point the user suffers from massive, debilitating withdrawal, usually accompanied by terrible, frightening hallucinations. To me, this sounds a lot like the next level of the hallucinogenic vapor that Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul used in the first movie. If trilogies are supposed to be about revisiting ideas from the beginning and closing the circle, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a Venom drug angle used in The Dark Knight Rises.
The great part about this speculation on my part is that it would fit perfectly with the use of Ra’s al Ghul in the first movie. In the books, Bane has a past association with Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Assassins. During their association, Bane impresses Ra's al Ghul so much with his cunning and ability that he chooses Bane as his heir (an "honor" he had previously imparted on Bruce Wayne/Batman, even in Batman Begins). In the comics, Bane eventually has a falling out with Ra’s, but not before they launch a plague attack on Gotham City. There would be little need to delve into the eventual conflict between Ra’s and Bane in the film if Bane simply plays the part of a p.o.’d protégé looking to finish what his mentor started. Of course, there is always room for a different, more intellectually stimulating agenda, but this connection at least gives Bane a legitimate integration for purposes of story continuity in the films.
The reason that I place such emphasis on Venom for a potential story is mainly because it was introduced in the comic book not through Bane, but through the Dark Knight himself. In the five-part story arc, Batman: Venom (found in Legends of the Dark Knight issues 16-20), Batman became addicted to the drug while searching for a way to compensate for his physical limitations and imperfections, forcing him to eventually lock himself in the Batcave to purge himself when he realized how dependent on the drug he had become. It is very conceivable, given the story in The Dark Knight, that Bruce Wayne/Batman would be having some serious psychological issues in the aftermath of facing the Joker and Two-Face (Harvey Dent), along with becoming a fugitive from justice and seeing his love interest murdered in the process. The drug could easily serve as an empowering crutch during these difficult times. As a remedy for another problem mentioned in The Dark Knight, Venom could also play a part in addressing the incredible physical toll that being Batman is taking on Wayne’s body.
There is the potential for an enticing ‘fix’ to these problems if Venom were introduced with an emphasis more on it being a destructive drug rather than the “make me a super-powered villain so I can smash things” interpretation. The idea of Venom as a street drug is not foreign to Batman in the comics and on television (appearing as ‘Slapper” patches in the animated show Batman Beyond as a performance enhancing sports drug with crippling side effects). It would make sense to have Venom play a similar role in the movie with Bane as a dealer and user of the drug and Batman as someone who has to handle it personally and also as a threat to the city.
I believe Nolan is too smart of a filmmaker to take the same simplistic approach as that which was used for Bane in Batman and Robin. I’m not saying that Nolan’s version of Bane will not have a buffed brawler aspect, but don’t expect some CG over-enhanced freak either. He will probably just be a really physical, ruthless villain who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty with some of the rougher elements of Gotham’s underworld. Nolan set the bar incredibly high in a lot of ways with The Dark Knight. As a writer and director, he will have to let both Bane’s intellectual and brutal aspects shine to the fullest in order for the villain to have a fighting chance of an even remote comparison to the psychological intensity of the Joker.
From what I’ve seen of Nolan’s movies, the man is not afraid to go dark, and that is a good thing if he should choose to explore a subject like drug use and addiction in the movie. As long as he can stay in “PG-13 Land,” I doubt Warner Bros. would have any objections either. I trust that in Nolan’s hands this could be a much better exploration into the world of addiction than what was done in Spider-Man 3 with the character of Venom (Heh! Coincidence, right!).
Now, aside from serving as a replacement love interest,
where Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) falls into the story, I do not know. I seriously doubt that she
will die and be resurrected by cats like in previous incarnations. More than
likely she’ll be a thief and add another example of moral ambiguity to the mix. It might be nice to bring in Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, Talia (also a Batman love
interest), for a few love triangle possibilities (Bane/Talia/Batman or Selina/Batman/Talia). We’ll have to wait and see how the story unfolds and if
Talia is used at all.
As an aside, I will be honest and say that I would like to
see a young Dick Grayson introduced in The Dark Knight Rises. They could
ditch the orphan circus performer introduction (in this movie anyway) and make
him a troubled street kid hooked on/dealing Venom or something, and then Bruce
(as a legal guardian and with no desire of revealing his secret or making
Grayson a hero’s sidekick) can take him in at the end of the film, as a new
beginning of sorts. Grayson should NOT, by any means under heaven, become Robin
in the movie, though. His introduction would merely serve as a setup for other
movies if someone wanted to continue Nolan’s particular vision in the future.
The studio wouldn’t have to worry about casting issues if they were to use an unknown in this movie and then age the character in a later installment to be replaced by a more famous name. I, personally, would not be opposed to the idea of Grayson skipping the Robin stage entirely and just becoming an independent vigilante as Nightwing and simply mention that he had been Robin at some point. Just a thought.
As you may have noticed, I have specifically avoided talking about the actors cast in the film. If Nolan has shown us anything (with a few exceptions which will go unnamed, of course), he knows how to get memorable (and sometimes award-winning) performances from his actors. This article is more concerned with addressing those aspects which will make a compelling story given the source material and Nolan’s own take on the crafting of the characters thus far in the series. I’ll leave actor performance speculation/analysis to other writers.
In closing, I will say that I trust Nolan to deliver a solid film (if not the best title) with The Dark Knight Rises. Whether it will live up to its predecessor The Dark Knight, I do not know. I will say that there is the potential to weave a pretty compelling story and a very satisfying ending to Nolan’s vision of the Batman.