Greatest Batman Movie Villain? Bane or The Joker?

The Dark Knight Rises, banner, Tom Hardy, Christian Bale, Batman, Bane

This article was intended to be an overall review of The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR), but along the way it morphed into something else. Instead of tackling the entire movie in one post, I thought I'd look at my favorite part of the film - the character of Bane, and Tom Hardy's portrayal of him. For me, TDKR is a movie so densely filled with memorable moments (and confusing ones as well) that it deserves to be pondered like a great novel, not just critiqued with a dashed off review.

Tom Hardy, Bane, The Dark Knight Rises, Batman
For the record, though - Is TDKR a worthy conclusion to Christopher Nolan's ground-breaking Batman trilogy? Yes. Is it one of the greatest superhero movies ever? Of course. Unfortunately, I can't label TDKR a masterpiece because the screenplay is filled with gaping plot holes, and many of the scenes don't stand up to logical scrutiny. I know every superhero movie demands a certain suspension of disbelief, but I expected a more coherent story from a director of Nolan's caliber. Beyond that, I need more time to think about how TDKR compares to and co-exists with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (TDK), and I might even need a third viewing to grasp all of its intricate twists and turns. 

Now, like I said, this post is about Bane - for my money, one of the greatest villains in any superhero movie. I was skeptical when I first heard that Bane would be the antagonist in TDKR, and was even more critical of his muffled voice in the trailers. I wondered if Nolan had possibly made a rare mistake that would spell trouble for TDKR. Of course I was a fool to doubt Mr. Nolan's judgement, because he and his co-screenwriter (and brother) Johnathan Nolan have written a fascinating character in Bane, and he was brought to life with menacing perfection by Hardy. 

Since the movie doesn't provide much background on Bane, I've included this entry from the recently published book, The Dark Knight Rises: The Secret Files Scrapbook
Little is known about Bane. He was born in prison and trained in the darkest forms of deception by the League of Shadows, but rumor has it he was cast out due to his extreme behavior. Bane is a ferocious hand-to-hand fighter who is willing to do anything in order to take down his opponents. Bane is in peak physical shape, but he must wear a breathing apparatus that feeds him with pain relieving gas due to an old injury. He's never been photographed without his mask and only a handful of people have seen his face. While his true motives remain a mystery, he appears to be building an army of followers in the dark tunnels underneath Gotham in order to create his own League of Shadows.
I've read some reviews that claimed Bane didn't seem as scary or dangerous as The Joker from TDK, but I don't know what movie they were watching. From the first moment he appears on screen in that incredible plane hi-jacking sequence until the climactic fight scene, he was the epitome of the evil mastermind. Yeah, The Joker wanted to destroy the system, but Bane had something much, much worse in mind. 

I like how Peter Howell, at The Toronto Star, puts it - 

“If it’s at all possible, Bane is even more nihilistic than Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight. And while it would be almost impossible to top the late Ledger’s incendiary performance, which won him a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Hardy’s Bane comes awfully close. He’s mesmerizing on the screen, recalling Darth Vader in the original Star Wars.” - Peter Howell, Toronto Star

What made Bane so fascinating? Let's start with his voice. That voice! Kudos to Hardy and to the sound engineers who created a truly unforgettable mixture of erudite sophistication and pure malice. Even now, days after seeing the movie, I still have Hardy's vocal performance and Bane's dialogue stuck in my head - 
"Ah you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding!"
"I was wondering what would break first, your spirit, or your body."
The entire movie is filled with Bane's menacing, murderous, but strangely refined oratory. I especially liked the scene in the football stadium, when he addresses the crowd - 
"Gotham, take control! Take control of your city! Behold the instrument of your liberation!" 
Besides that unforgettable voice, what makes Bane mesmerizing is the brilliant way Nolan and company kept his background a mystery. We really don't learn that much about his story until late in the film, and when we do, it alters the way we feel about him. He no longer seems exactly like the heartless monster we've assumed he was. 

The Dark Knight Rises, fan art, Bane, Batman, Capes on Film
Fan poster by thedemonknight
Some say Bane isn't in the same league as TDK's Joker in terms of screen super-villains. Nope, sorry. While The Clown Prince was an agent of chaos, Bane is a brilliant strategist and is The Joker's intellectual equal - but combined with brute strength and deadly hand to hand fighting skills. While I have total respect for Heath Ledger's performance in TDK, we shouldn't downplay the difficult acting job that Hardy was tasked with in TDKR. Hardy had (arguably) a physically more demanding role in Bane, and was forced by the mask to convey everything though his eyes. I think as time passes, Hardy's performance is going to garner more respect as people come to appreciate what he created on screen. In the years since TDK was released, Ledger's Joker has rightfully become a pop culture icon, but I think Hardy's Bane is going to be just as imitated, parodied, and discussed. 

Bottom line - both Hardy's and Ledger's performances were brilliant in their own way, but if I had to choose the most imposing villain, and the character I'd like to learn more about, I would choose Bane.  Again, I'm not judging the actors so much as the overall impression the character made on me (obviously the performances do factor in, as well).

I'm curious to know what you think of Bane - including, how he was portrayed in TDKR, Hardy's performance, and how Bane ranks in terms of movie villains. Instead of using a comments section here, I invite you to stay in touch through our Facebook page or Tweet your thoughts to @capesonfilm