EDITORIAL: Balancing Bane: Brawn over brain?

EDITORIAL: Balancing Bane: Brawn over brain?

In light of complaints about Bane's appearance and characterization in The Dark Knight Rises, the author would like to throw in his two cents regarding both the Bane from the comics and the one we're going to be given this summer. This article intends to find out whether a proper balance between brain and brawn can be struck in a batman movie or whether the nature of the character does not allow it.

Now you all know that TDKR is coming out this summer and the main villain is going to be Bane. Some people have been underwhelmed (not me, however) by the set photos showing Bane with a pimp coat and a freaky, Hannibal-Lecter mask. Some have complained that Hardy is actually too small to play the villain who broke Batman's back. But does Bane's emphasis have to be on his physicality rather than his intelligence or can you have both? Does the character become its own problem?

Firstly, Bane is strong. Not just tough, he's trained himself to physical perfection and since he had plenty of time in prison he read everything he could get his hands on to make himself as smart, if not smarter, than Batman. He also uses Venom, a strength enhancer that transforms Bane into a gigantic monster of a man.
The question is: what ultimately makes for a good cinematic villain? Is it strength? There are plenty of villains out there who're tough and big enough to give Batman a bad time but don't have the intelligence to create a complex plan or challenge the hero on a moral and intellectual basis. Is it simply their intellect? The Joker and the Riddler are both very smart but ultimately Batman can beat them if they ever choose to fight him in hand-to-hand combat. If you want a challenging villain, make it the intelligent strongman who broke batman's back and defeated him. The question therefore becomes, how do you make Bane realistic, as he can't be too big in Nolan's realistic (or less far-fetched) batman universe, since he's still human?

That is,of course, if your main concern is to make Bane mainly a physical presence and ignore his intellect like so many writers have done over the years. The problem with Bane is, namely, that he's just too perfect an opponent to live up to the expectations of the comicbook fans. He's Nietzsche's Übermensch times 10 and people seriously believe that Christopher Nolan will compromise his "realistic" vision for that impossible task? I'd say that Nolan chose Bane to challenge batman physically as well as psychologically but not to the degree that the comics did in Knightfall because, in a realistic setting, that's just not possible. The characters in a story are the tools with which the message (if there is one) is conveyed. Thus, the problem with adapting a character like Bane is that one needs to strike a balance between his intelligence and his muscular appearance because no person alive looks like Bane and has the acting abilities to pull off that subtle a character. As far as I know there is no law that states that Bane MUST be a 7ft. giant with tubes coming out of his head. It's just that the comicbook industry finds it easier to write and draw him this way (a fact confirmed by the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games, The Batman Animated series, Batman & R...never mind). We have been exposed to the real Bane in Knightfall and then for approximately 20 years we've been given the dumb brute who couldn't create this complex a plan if his life depended on it. And now some are demanding what the industry has accustomed them to: give them a big dude on steroids that looks like Bane and they'll call it Bane because that's all they know about him at this point. That is the reason why people are so underwhelmed: the character will inevitably need to be compromised in any adaptation. Brain or brawn, that is the question.

One way to pull off the character would be to get a bodybuilder and let Tom Hardy do his voice, just like they did in Batman & R...never mind. That is, of course, if a bodybuilder can move like a person who's delved into the character and knows what he's about.
The other way to do it is to get a good actor who's big enough to be physically imposing. Tom Hardy was great in "Bronson" but he's no 7 ft. tall giant to say the least but he can play incredibly violent guys who spend hours a day in the gym working out and he looks menacing in Bronson at least. Besides, he's been really good and tough in "Warrior", in which he displayed his MMA fighting skills. But he's smaller than Christian Bale so he'll obviously never get the essence of Bane's character right, namely that he's 7ft. tall and gets even bigger when using venom, which is in the movie but won't probably be called venom so it's not really venom and thus Nolan's Bane is obviously a fraud and could never live up to our expectations.

Except that Nolan may choose to emphasise another side of Bane that we've never seen on-screen or in any adaptation: Bane's intelligence. We have all seen the prologue by now so there's no reason not to discuss it. "What matters is our plan", says the guy-who-could-never-be-Bane (according to apparently everybody but me) and then he crashes the plane on which he's been held prisoner. This character could still be Bane, if one can accept that the emphasis is put on a different character trait. If Nolan's Bane is not the hulking figure of the comics he's sufficiently built to be a threat to Batman but we all know why we'd like to see Bane on the big screen: so he can shake off the dumb brute image that the industry and most comicbook readers, writers and artists have given him and it looks like Nolan, to some extent, has been able to achieve this, as Bane is at least eloquent enough to string two sentences together while breaking Littlefinger's neck.

This leads to the voice issue: it's been parodied to death already but what I mean is mmhhmmhm and mmmmhmmmh. I personally don't have a problem with the voice, and it's true that this was not how Bane was portrayed in the comics but since I personally did not have a problem understanding him it's no issue for me, personally. I can see however how this may be annoying to others. The only thing I can say is: what do we know always happens when Bane uses venom in the comics? Batman severs the tubes and Bane shrinks and gets weaker. In the film Batman would actually need to get the whole mask off, which sounds like an easy thing to do if you did not have in front of you a guy who plans out everything years in advance, trains himself really hard (I won't say Tom Hardy has managed to train himself to physical perfection but who frankly has?) and makes sure there are no loopholes in his plan. That does not mean that ADR might not improve the voice but at the same time I have to support artistic freedom, even if it means that I must stop destroying my ears with loud music.

If Nolan had not chosen to make Bane more intellectual than physical then the whole issue would not even have come up because then we'd simply have said that Nolan failed to mkae bane as big as he is in the comics. But once again, it's the character himself who poses problems: you need to emphasise one side over the other, since he's such a perfect adversary that you would not be able to sustain his success as a character, since you'd need good writers who care about the character enough to make him both smart and strong. In a movie that claims to be more realistic than other comicbook adaptations you have the problem of bringing that character to life in a believeable way. Now I don't know where it says that you have to emphasise brawn when it comes to Bane because, lets not forget that his greatest feat was to break Batman but ONLY AFTER he got Batman so tired that it was possible for him to beat him and I don't know therefore what a fair fight would've looked like. Thus, it's not even sure if Bane is actually stronger than batman.

In conclusion, the author means to say that the fan expectations regarding Bane cannot possibly be met, as Bane is just too perfect an opponent to be adapted outside of the comics (there is no excuse for compromising in the comics though) and that any director choosing Bane as a villain will have to either overemphasise one aspect of the character or make him less of an Übermensch. In Nolan's case he's done, in my opinion, the sensible thing, in making Bane less physical than in the comics (but still tough and dangerous) and this works to his advantage, as he's using Bane as a smart character that deserves respect. The only issue is the voice and as far as I know slight alterations are being made so I don't think the venom people spit at this version of Bane (pun intended) is necessary. It's simply the character's own fault that he had to be so good in his first appearance, only to be let down by lesser writers and artists who could neither write nor draw him well enough to make him live up to his first feat. I am also tired of the characters in the comics doing the same thing over and over and so a change in appearance for Bane was a welcome surprise for me because at least it leaves room for the character to grow beyond his mere gimmick.
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