GREAT VILLAINS: Bane
As the growing screen presence that is Tom Hardy prepares to essay two of the 20th centuries greatest real-life villains, the brothers Kray, in Legend, let's look back at the bad guy role that helped turn him from edgy character actor into bonafide world wide star.
No, not Shinzon the Reman/Romulan/human/clone/whatever from Star Trek: Nemesis, but rather a nemesis who inspired a thousand memes, a thousand impressions, and a thousand winces when he put the Caped Crusader over his knee... BAAAAAAAAAAANE.
Before 2012, before being immortalised by Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, cinema only knew Bane as Robert Swenson's lurching, beastly, almost monosyllabic henchman from the atrocious Batman & Robin in 1997, where he generally shouted his own name and seethed with green fury as the goon to Poison Ivy's cheesy villainess. Comic book fans, however, knew a very different beast - a supervillain adversary with brute strength and exceptional intelligence; the same beast, indeed, Batman would end up facing in Christopher Nolan's trilogy conclusion.
His origin story was established in the historic comic 'Knightfall', remembered for seeing him break Bruce Wayne physically not just psychologically. While his entire backstory was re-conceptualised to fit Nolan's interpretation, this survived. Batman Begins had seen Christian Bale's Batman face the chaotic philosophy of sophisticated villain Ra's al-Ghul, while The Dark Knight had him face the chaotic reality of The Joker, but in Bane he was delivered a true physical nemesis the likes of which he had never faced on screen. Hardy transformed his body to an incredible degree, bulging his muscular frame while Nolan chose to make him almost indecipherable - indeed in the preview footage of The Dark Knight Rises, he was so hard to understand Nolan had to soften the translation though his mask so people could pick up his words.
The comics had Bane presented as the son of an imprisoned revolutionary in the fictional Caribbean republic of Santa Prisca, in a prison called Pena Duro. He ultimately ended up, due to the corruption of the government, serving his father's sentence and proceeded to not just grow up with fierce intelligence & physical strength, but christened himself 'Bane' and ruled the prison, capable of vicious murder yet crippled with terror of a monstrous bat-figure he saw in his dreams. After subsequently being a test subject of Hugo Strange's 'Venom' serum, Bane escaped Pena Duro and became obsessed with Batman, considering him a manifestation of the creature he saw in his dreams, and subsequently he resolved to destroy him.
If you compare this to Nolan's film, Bane's backstory has certain thematic similarities. Where he was born or to whom, and quite how old he is, remain a mystery, but he is presented as a violent, merciless, dedicated revolutionary who is completely consumed with not just destroying Batman, but completely psychologically decimating Bruce Wayne and indeed the symbol of what he stands for. His control of the League of Shadows, an ancient group of revolutionary warriors challenging corrupt civilisation, he appears at first to be a manifestation of virtue attempting—via admittedly terrorist means—to bring justice to Gotham City by inciting revolution, uprising and removing those in power, removing the false hero myth of Harvey Dent aka 'Two-Face', whose actions Batman had assumed culpability for at the end of The Dark Knight.
Hardy, though not without the odd one-liner or comic inflection with an accent somewhere between Queens English, patois, and Darth Vader, plays Bane's motivations straight and with absolute committed sincerity; he never once betrays his own feelings through dialogue himself, coming closest simply in his titanic fight with Batman, but he always maintains a certain distance as a powerful antithesis, a symbol, the 'necessary evil' he describes himself at one point, which only serves to make him more unsettling. It's only upon the climactic revelation, exposing him as the saviour of Talia al-Ghul as a child from the pit prison, that Bane's true personal underlying motivations become clear; his love for Talia led him to become embroiled both in finishing her father's work to restore balance & order to Gotham, but her own vengeance against the man who killed him. He sheds a tear as she recounts her tragic story and for the first time we see the man behind the monster, the man totally at her emotional mercy.
Does this rob him of his villainous power or humanise the demon in his final moments? That remains open for debate. What is less debatable is how memorable Tom Hardy's portrayal is, and how for this generation at least, there will be only one BAAAAAAAANE.
Read more articles such as this on my film blog, BLACK HOLE ONLINE: https://blackholeonline.wordpress.com