And that, of course, is where Bane comes into it. I think that Nolan has crafted pretty much the perfect version of Bane, an iteration of the character who is perhaps the best that the villain could ever be. Bane isn’t just a goon in a silly mask, as he was in Batman & Robin or even in Batman: The Animated Series. Instead, he’s developed as a character who exists in dynamic opposition to Bruce. Nolan takes the best aspects of the character and improves upon them.
He’s defined as the very opposite of Batman, right down to him mask. Batman’s mask covers all of his face except his mouth. Bane’s mask pretty much only covers his mouth. Bane even operates using technology appropriated from Batman. The sewers are pretty much Bane’s Batcave, and the character’s modus operandi is constructed to compliment Batman. He’s a planner, much like Bruce.
It’s telling that Bane is introduced in a powerhouse action sequence that actually mirrors the closing sequence from Batman Begins. In both situations, the character finds themselves hopelessly outclassed aboard a method of transportation hurdling towards defeat. In both cases, the character’s opponent appearsto have the upper hand. The revelation (or the twist) reveals that the character is actually planning to destroy the method of transport, rather than merely hijacking it.
Bridging the gap between the tone of Begins and the themes of The Dark Knight…
Consider this exchange between Ra’s Al Ghul and Bruce in Batman Begins:
Don’t be afraid, Bruce. You’re just an ordinary man in a cape. That’s why you can’t fight injustice, and that’s why you can’t stop this train.
Who said anything about stopping it?
Compare it to this one between a smarmy CIA handler and Bane:
Congratulations, you got yourself caught. Now what’s the next step of your masterplan?
Crashing this plane.
However, Nolan takes it much further than that. We’re told that Bane grew up in a prison, like his comic book counterpart. However, the best part of this is the design. Bane’s prison is designed to evoke the well from Batman Begins – the hole through which Bruce found the bats that would inspire him. Discussing the origins of Bane, Alfred comments, “Sometimes a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes the pit sends something back.” In many ways, the cave underneath Wayne Manor served a similar purpose, sending back the idea for Batman, implanted deep in Wayne’s subconscious.
Bane even seems to adopt a technique and methodology similar to Batman. After pulling off a daring aerial escape, he assures his captive. “Now is not the time for fear. That come later.” Bane’s reputation and his ability to generate fear are an important part of what makes him so significant a threat. Much like China’s extradition laws could not protect Lau from Batman in The Dark Knight, Selina knows that the G.C.P.D. cannot protect her from Bane. (“You should be as afraid of him as I am,” she advises Blake.)
Bane even makes the same sort of gradniose theatrical gestures that Batman used – albeit for the opposite purpose. In Batman Begins, Bruce created a bat-signal by tying a mobster to a searchlight for the world to see. It was a clear threat to the criminals and the corrupt, a declaration of intent. Bane deals with a covert intrusion into Gotham using the same sort of theatricality. “Hang them. Where the world will see.” It’s a very clear statement directed towards the forces of law and order.
Much like Bruce, Bane has ascended to the status of legend. Bruce is told the story of how one prisoner managed to escape the hellish pit of a prison, but the storyteller dismisses it as “an old myth, nothing more.” Bane perfectly mirrors the Batman half of Bruce Wayne, with his mask literally serving to numb the massive pain that he feels. We’re told that Bane is in “constant agony” underneath it. His pain might be more literal than Bruce’s existential rage, but for both characters “the mask holds the pain at bay.” It’s somewhat fitting, then, that Batman defeats Bane by attempting to destroy the mask. (Ironically, before Bruce destroys his own mask.)
In fact, it’s fascinating that Batman effectively defeats Bane and Talia by mirroring their attacks on him. Bane breaks Batman’s back; Talia ends up with a snapped neck. Bane destroys Bruce’s mask by pounding it until it cracks, while Bruce destroys Bane’s mask. Those actions can’t destroy Bruce because his two identities are so strongly intertwined. When Bruce is broken, Batman can rise. When his cowl breaks, Bruce is underneath it. Despite how closely Bane and Talia are integrated, they haven’t a union as effective as Bruce and Batman. There’s nothing underneath Bane’s mask to help him survive its destruction. Talia has nothing to help her survive her broken back.
It’s possible to argue that Bane is counterpart to Batman, but without the Bruce Wayne persona. At the start of the film, the Mayor of Gotham refers to Batman as “a murderous thug in a mask”, and that’s pretty much what Bane is. Bane doesn’t have a life outside the mask, and is incapable of taking it off without being in severe pain. The person behind the mask is never named, and is of little importance. Even Bane himself concedes, “Nobody cared who I was until I put on the mask.”
Given how so much of The Dark Knight Rises explores what Bruce Wayne is without Batman, it’s a very effective mirror for the character and I think that Bane is the perfect counterpoint to Batman in this film. Bane is pretty much Batman thrown back against Batman, but without any of the humanity and compassion. Bruce sincerely hopes that he can use Batman might make the world a better place, but Bane lacks that sense of hope. Bane is just nihilistic anger without any optimism behind him.
While the Joker firmly rejected Batman’s optimistic world view, Bane actually acknowledges it, to a point. The Joker could never understand Bruce’s faith in humanity, while Bane understands it perfectly. He just doesn’t think it can ever be realised – hope is a weakness. To Bane, hope is just that bright light you can never actually reach, teasing and tempting you. To Bane, hope is only useful as a tool to understand despair. Without hope, despair cannot truly exist.
I really liked Tom Hardy as Bane. While the character doesn’t get to steal the show in the same way the Joker did, Hardy has a great deal of fun. He seems to be consciously and anxiously flexing his muscles, as if waiting for something to happen – for the mayhem to start. “Let the games begin!” he warns Gotham, gleefully. There are wonderfully weird moments of humanity glimpsed beneath the character’s cold demeanour. As he listens to the national anthem before a terrorist attack, he sincerely notes, “That’s a lovely, lovely voice.” When he takes control of the Gotham Stock Exchange, he even gives a curt nod to one of the hostages.
Bane fits in quite well, much better than I honestly thought the character would. While the Joker proved a philosophical and intellectual challenge to Batman, Bane is instead a character how can’t be defeated by Batman’s physicality. In their first confrontation, Batman hammers Bane with everything he has, and Bane barely flinches. Even Batman’s usual tricks are completely useless. “Theatricality and deception,” Bane notes. “Powerful agents to the uninitiated.” Basically, Bane is a character who exists to counter Batman’s strength and tactics. He’s a more hardcore version of the hero. “You merely adopted the dark. I was born to it.”