The Dark Knight Fell?

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Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Courtesy of DC Comics/Warner Bros.
Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Courtesy of DC Comics/Warner Bros.

Nathan Jones, like a battered Bruce Wayne, has been dumped at the bottom of a pit of frustration by Christopher Nolan and his media admirers, including our own J.H. Ramsay. A month after it’s release, he’s beefed up and set out to break the back of The Dark Knight Rises.

Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Courtesy of DC Comics/Warner Bros.
Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Courtesy of DC Comics/Warner Bros.

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX the day it opened and as the film rolled I gradually realised that this movie was going to let me down deeply. I left the cinema consigned to the belief that the Batman finale would get a pretty mediocre review in most papers. It wasn’t bad, far better than The Avengers, but it wasn’t the film that Gotham deserved: what was set to be the greatest ever superhero trilogy fluffed its last act.

I was wrong. Most people loved it. My girlfriend, sitting in the seat next to me, loved it. When these things happen I’m thrown into existential crisis. How can I have hated the same movie that everyone else loved? I need to restore my faith in the objective quality of film. I’ve been wrestling with it for weeks, scowling with inner anguish whenever I see a ‘Rises’ poster boasting a swarm of five star reviews. It is for this reason that I dare to incur the wrath of the Saint comment box. Much like the Dark Knight himself, you’ll hate me for it, but that’s the point of Batman; I can be the outcast.

This is not a review. It’s a bit late for that, and J.H. Ramsay pretty much devoted his Saint review to the good side of the film already. I’m pointing out the negatives, the ones which I saw as glaring; and there will be spoilers.

Plot holes don’t necessarily break a film; the whole thing relies on an illusion. There were plenty of problems with the Joker’s complex plan in The Dark Knight, but we didn’t notice because our belief was suspended. Christopher Nolan pulled off a film about dream spies in Inception; he’s a master of illusions. This time though, I couldn’t help but see through the smoke and mirrors.

The way the film dealt with the character of Bane really ruined it for me. His story originates in The Pit, a prison that is “hell on Earth”, out of which Alfred says Bane has risen “from the darkness”. Bane’s back-story seems to hinge on this place and how terrible it is, but when the audience is introduced to the prison through Bruce Wayne it’s not that bad at all. For starters this Pit is filled with really nice people, especially the two in Wayne’s adjacent cells. One is an old sage who imparts friendly advice; the other is a doctor who performs spinal surgery on Bruce for nothing. Bruce gets in no fights, prisoners are always on hand to chant encouragement, and he certainly doesn’t get violated in the showers. This is possibly the nicest prison in movie history. Even the prison Bruce is in in Batman Begins was FAR WORSE THAN THIS. I guess it had the plague once, but that doesn’t exactly qualify Bane to be such a nutcase. How many cancer survivors do you see leading armies of mercenaries?

The Pit prison wasn’t Bane’s motivation; it’s just 45 minutes of irrelevance. We see Bane go from helping a little girl to becoming a psychotic harmonica face who wants to kill a city. Bane’s character is formed off camera. We have no idea why Bane unquestioningly follows Talia Al Ghul to complete her father’s mission, especially considering how her father hated Bane.

Alright, the prison could be a vehicle for Batman’s resurrection. But aside from the fact that Bruce Wayne is a pretty decent free climber, what does his imprisonment really show? He surmounts most of his obstacles, including a broken back, pretty easily and without mental dilemma. The pit is a huge chunk of the plot that is completely counterproductive.

Bale's Wayne in The Pit. Courtesy of DC Comics/ Warner Bros.
Bale’s Wayne in The Pit. Courtesy of DC Comics/ Warner Bros.

Outside of the prison things are no better for Tom Hardy’s baddie. Aside from Bane’s great introduction, the villain rarely seems to contribute anything meaningful to the film. Bane starts out as truly menacing. He causes great pain almost unthinkingly; his blithe speech belying devastating and unpredictable violence. However, his promisingly fascinating role as a revolutionary anti-hero is scrapped pretty quickly when it turns out he just wants to blow up everything with a nuclear bomb. All of Bane’s revolutionary rhetoric is a lie; his devotion to Talia means that he has been an unthinking servant all along. In the month it takes for the bomb to go off, Bane is condemned to wander Gotham’s streets; yawning through his morphine snorkel as he waits for something to happen. And then there’s his death. Bane’s weakness is, apparently, being punched repeatedly in the face before being shot with a big gun. Compare this to the Joker’s final confrontation with Batman and you should share my disappointment. Scarecrow made Batman face and harness his fear, the Joker preyed on his moral immovability. Bane, on the other hand, is just physically stronger than Batman; that’s all he brings to the table.

So that was why I couldn’t hack the Bat. I’m not venting because I hated the film (it was pretty good) but because I get uncomfortable when an imperfect film like this is so highly praised. People need to keep their standards high or movie makers won’t try. In an otherwise well written review The Saint’s own J.H. Ramsay calls the film “near perfect”, admitting that “it gets shaky at parts”. Why would you give a film a 10/10 rating for being not quite perfect? This is a fallacy that huge chunks of the media are guilty of committing. We really owe it to the art of film to make a fuss when we don’t think someone’s doing it right. Although Christopher Nolan is admittedly some kind of god, sometimes his followers need to question their faith.

 

11 COMMENTS

  1. I can understand the difficulties you’re having, Nate. Bane is meant to be an anarchist, and anarchists, by definition, are in their goals and methods irrational and inexplicable.

    But what you certainly possess the mental faculties TO understand is this: Bane just wants to see shit get fucked up. That’s it. You don’t need to look past his motivations for more motivations for his motivations. He’s a scarred character who just wants to destroy everything. Accept it. He doesn’t need to be dissected past that.

    I gave the film a 10/10 because when I left the theater, I was completely satisfied. I did not feel cheated. I did not feel confused or misdirected. I was satisfied. It was a 10/10 experience for me, even if it contained shaky parts.

  2. I think you may be confused, Bane was not an anarchist. He had a police force patrolling the streets keeping order in Gotham. He even had a court which, although not an agency for justice, was a means of keeping autocratic control. He didn’t hand over control to the fear and rage of the mass population. The Joker, on the other hand, was an anarchist. And his motivations were also not inexplicable; he explained his philosophy throughout the film. Bane did not just want to see ‘shit get fucked up’, like the joker. The only possible explanation for his actions then must be his devotion to Talia; leaving him, in my eyes, a bit of a puppet.

    What did you mean by “But what you certainly possess the mental faculties TO understand is this…”?

    I am not trying to ruin your enjoyment of this film, but I do enjoy this discussion.

  3. I think there is a bit of both in him. He follows the anarchic, destructive goals of the League of Shadows, whose plans seem consistently to give the citizens of Gotham reason to tear each other apart (remember, they didn’t know the bomb would go off, they believed one of them had the switch; much like the Joker’s final plans). He is something of a pawn, but only because he’s a sort of General of the League, not solely because of Talia. In this way, Scarecrow was much more of a pawn and thus, in this argument, a lesser character. What we need to accept is not that he wanted to destroy stuff in a meathead way, but that he believed in the aims of the order, even if the order didn’t believe in him. We know too that he started a revolution in a failed African state, so he has previous in this. And while his strength is hardly as exciting as fear gas or moral distress, it was the one threat which Wayne/Batman hadn’t faced, and couldn’t now cope with. He started a revolution which was simply a humiliation for Gotham’s elite, and to show the breakdown of civilisation: had the bomb went off, no-one but Wayne’s allies would have known that it wasn’t a citizen that had done it.

  4. I completely agree with your article Nathan. No need to write my own mini-essay about it, but all of your points are entirely valid and anyone wishing to disagree has to provide a reason why each of them is incorrect, not just say “Bane is an anarchist and you’re not meant to understand them.” J.H. Ramsay, resorting to the old “come on, I know that you are smart enough to understand why I’m right” line is incredibly desperate and immature.

  5. You’re right Lewis, my argument would relegate the scarecrow to a pawn, and he definitely didn’t come across that way in Begins. And I guess Bane’s strength takes him beyond Batman’s comfort zone, he makes Batman go beyond the limit of physical strength and sees what remains.

    Nevertheless I just didn’t see eye to eye with Bane and his character seemed a bit shallow for me to really enjoy him. I felt it was a bit of a cop out to just make him really, really hard and not have any back-story to support that.

    They sort of half heartedly toyed with the idea of Bane’s beginnings, and left me wanting more.

    It’s all personal preference. But can one person dislike a film, another love it, and both of them be right?

  6. nate i implore you to see the bigger picture, the movie was not about how bane behaves or how he gets trashed by the batman, it was about the society, no matter how much you suppress, power in wrong hands and corruption strives to create chaos in and by the affluent class… I agree to what you have said he seems more like a pawn bt you do need a match stick to light up a bomb.. He just didnt want to kill the people, he wanted to kill their morale, he wanted to kill the system.

  7. Yangya gets it. Lewis gets it. Nate, I feel like you’re right on the cusp of it. Stick it through and we’ll get you there.

    Batman is a symbol of order. That’s why all of his rogues gallery villains are different incarnations of disorder (scarecrow = fear, two face = objective chance, joker = pure insanity, mr. freeze = blinded love, etc.) When Bane “breaks the bat” he’s symbolizing not political anarchy, but the concept of anarchy. Free-for-all chaos. But then he has this beautiful tragic flaw: his adherence to Talia, a woman he takes a father figure role for. That’s his tragic flaw. That’s why he’s so real, so believable – he contradicts himself. He applies an order of disorder.

  8. One thing that this article’s argument hinges upon is the idea that Bruce was treated very well in the “pit” for no good reason. Well, he was nursed by a doctor so that he could survive to watch Gotham fall (this is clearly said in the film.) Also, the reason they help repair his back problems is, as Bain states, the greatest torture comes when there is a slight hope of escaping and if Wayne is crippled he doesn’t have much of a chance does he?
    All other points regarding Bain’s motivation for his actions seem to be covered by Lewis’s comment, all I can add is that we never needed to know what the Joker’s motivation was and nobody complained about him. I will say however that this article is well written and is very well targeted, but it also has an element of attention seeking involved. Just like someone saying “The Beatles weren’t actually that good musically”, this article is guaranteed to get long winded comments by geeks like me explaining its failings. So congratulations on being a successful contrarian. 🙂

  9. J.H. Ramsay, what you’re saying about Bane’s character could well be true. I can’t argue with the abstract concepts and tragic flaws you draw from the artwork. But I can argue that you can do what you’ve done with most fictional characters. What’s important is the actual information shown by the director, and I don’t think he gave me enough prompting to draw the same conclusions. Don’t worry though, I’m sure I can trust you to ‘get me there’.

    Dave Hershaw, I would argue that we had a much better picture of the Joker’s motivation than we had of Bane’s (his talks about “the plan”, his perpetual immovable object unstoppable force grudge match with Batman’s moral immovability). Thanks for the compliments, perhaps if it were less attention seeking then we might not be chatting here now.

  10. My “attention seeking” comment was badly phrased and unnecessary so apologies for that. As I said, this is a well written and enjoyable article. With regards to the Joker I would argue that his motivation is kept deliberately vague in the film (e.g. the inconsistencies in his stories about how he got his facial scars) and this mystery contributes to how scary and unpredictable a character he is. The same is true of Bane for the majority of the film, with his backstory not being revealed in much detail until near the end when his true role becomes clearer. I guess the fear of the unknown is what has made Nolan’s Batman villains threatening in my opinion, so I wasn’t too bothered at the lack of information given on Bane. I was also glad that Bane’s story arc was different to that of the Joker, as otherwise the film would have felt like it was just a remake of The Dark Knight.

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