THE MAIN VILLAIN
I’ve been rewatching some scenes from TDK this past week, and although I’ve already seen it at least a dozen times, it always strikes me how great a villain the Joker is, and how Heath Ledger’s portrayal raised it to a completely different level. Unfortunately, Bane never approaches those heights in TDKR. This is not an indictment on Tom Hardy. In fact, I rather enjoyed his performance (and put me squarely into the ‘pro’ camp when it comes to Bane’s voice), but anyone going up against Ledger’s Joker is going to have a tough time measuring up.
To be fair, the script could have done more to elevate Bane from a menacing villain to a great one. The reason why the Joker is so intriguing is because he is not a ‘regular’ villain, but that he the very anti-thesis of what Batman stands for.
As much as Batman would hate to admit, they both see in each other an alternate version of themselves. Both of them suffered great misfortunes in their earlier lives, but they both chose to go down different paths and philosophies. The death of his parents convinced Bruce Wayne that he needs to bring order back to Gotham (that he does so in the form of a vigilante who operates outside of police jurisdiction is rather ironic, but that’s a different debate). He sees Batman as something more than a hero; a symbol that can bring out the best in people. The Joker, on the other hand, is convinced that the world is governed by chaos and he wants to prove how ridiculous the notion of order and rules are. He sees himself as something more than a villain; an agent of chaos who can bring out the worst in people. If it is Batman’s motto that anyone can be a hero, then it is the Joker’s belief that anyone can be a villain. All you need is a little push. The Joker sees in Batman his ultimate challenge, and Batman sees in the Joker his ultimate downfall, and it is this dynamic that makes TDK so much more than just another superhero movie, but one that also succeeds on a philosophical and psychological level.
I was pretty excited when Bane was first announced as the main villain for TDKR. I admit I’m not that well-versed in the Batman lore, but after doing some research I found out that Bane is not only a brute force, but also a man of great intellect who was obsessed by defeating Batman. He was the one who managed to break the Bat, in one of the more iconic images in Batman history (which they reused in TDKR). So when Bane told Bruce Wayne in the trailers that “your punishment must be more severe,” and that “When Gotham is ashes, then you will have my permission to die,” I thought we were in for another epic psychological battle, only against a villain who is physically superior than Batman as well.
As it turned out, Bane was never really all that interested in Batman. Instead he was a fanatic looking to fulfill what Ra’s Al Ghul had set out to do in Batman Begins. It wasn’t the approach I expected, but it still could have worked out splendidly. Whereas the Joker was completely unambiguous in his morals (he has none), I would love to have seen Bane being portrayed as a morally ambiguous figure; someone who would force Batman to reconsider his choices. Remember, it was Batman at the end of TDK who made the choice to cover up the truth about Harvey Dent with the reluctant help of Commissioner Gordon. Bane should have challenged them more on the morality and consequences of their actions. Sure, Batman has Gotham’s best interests at heart, but who is he to decide what is good or bad for the people of Gotham? Instead we got one single scene where Bane read out Gordon’s letter when he released Gotham’s prisoners, something which he would have done with or without the letter anyway. It changed nothing in the movie, and after that scene, everybody seemed to have forgotten that the letter even existed.
So the character Bane didn’t live up to my expectations of being more than a bad guy, but he was still an imposing villain blessed with brute strength and great intellect, right? Surely we don’t need all our movie villains to be ambiguous to enjoy their portrayal? I agree. I still liked Bane, and it was interesting to see Batman matched up against someone more powerful than him for once. Except there was one final nail in the coffin towards the end. It turned out that Bane wasn’t even pursuing in his own beliefs. and that he was simply following the orders of Talia Al Ghul out of love (probably not romantic love, but like as a guardian). It greatly reduced the significance of his character; which is a great shame considering the enormous potential.