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Editorial: The Dark Knight vs. Bane

For those who have read my entries here, have heard me on podcasts, or (heaven forbid) actually know me, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am not Christopher Nolan’s biggest fan.  I’m always baffled by the idea that with as many incarnations as Batman has experienced on the big screen, not one live action feature film has actually been taken from the best the source material has to offer.  I’ve gone on ad nauseum about how WB (or any other company) needs to stop letting directors work “their vision” of a property and actually realize that what makes long-running characters work will always hold true for them.  A property like Batman will make money hand over fist on opening weekend regardless of how badly it’s handled.  WB need not fear in that department.

I rant because I care.  Batman, when told properly, has more than earned his place as one of the best characters in multimedia history.  But I’m not going to rant for miles about Batman’s code of ethics that won’t allow him to kill, the insatiable need of directors to load up his vehicles full of guns that he has no business using, or the messed up conclusion that he’s a psychopath worse than any of his rogues gallery.  I think I’ve made these points abundantly clear.  Sooner or later somebody other than Bruce Timm will figure it out, and I will rejoice on that day.  Until then, I make mine animated.

This editorial is focused primarily on Bane.  As we all know by now, the casting confirmations came down the wire yesterday that The Dark Knight Rises will feature Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane. 

I have nothing but respect for Hathaway as an actress, and Catwoman is one of my favorites in the rogues gallery.  But then, I felt the same way about Heath Ledger and the Joker until the abomination of The Dark Knight hit the screen, and thankfully Liam Neeson is far better than the sum of the bombs he’s been a part of, so I need not rant about Ra’s al Ghul or the fact that nobody can seem to even pronounce the character’s name right.  I’m sure most of you disagree with me on all these points, and it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.  That said, Catwoman is a little more versatile than most of the hard-lined rogues Nolan has spotlighted, so I hope this goes better than I expect.  Time will tell.

I’m the first to admit I’m not that well-versed in Tom Hardy’s work.  Largely I know him only as Shinzon from Star Trek: Nemesis, and I blame director Stuart Baird for that travesty.  I’m not going to bag on Hardy here.  Indeed, since Bale’s Batman is 0-2, I can’t count on him to rescue this movie.  My fear for this film rests squarely on Bane.  Simply put, Bane is a one-trick pony, and that one trick – astounding as it may be – cannot be told properly within the scope of the Nolanverse.

Show of hands here: who’s actually read the Knightfall saga?  Anyone?  If you claim to be a Batman fan and haven’t read it, do so.  It’s one of those milestone stories that will never be forgotten.  I find it horribly ironic that the one story that DC Comics printed specifically to point out that Batman should not be treated like the Punisher is the one that TDKR is going to attempt.  At least, I can only assume this is the story they’ll attempt since, as I pointed out, Bane is a one-trick pony.  Much like Doomsday, Conduit, or any number of other villains who (should have) remained one-shot characters, Bane has only one function in the entire multiverse: to break Batman.  Any other story told with this guy has to start here.

For those who haven’t read the story or won’t bother hitting up Wiki in spite of the link I offered above, here’s the nutshell version.  Bane wants to be the undisputed kingpin of Gotham’s criminal underworld.  To establish his dominance, he breaks open Arkham Asylum, unleashing every major foe Batman has ever put there, and forcing an already exhausted Batman deeper into exhaustion.  Bane watches Batman and learns from each encounter, discovering all of Batman’s tricks and sees how he’s visibly destroying himself.  Then when the Dark Knight hits rock bottom, Bane meets him in the cave, breaks his back, and tosses the hero down upon the streets of Gotham for all to see.  If that were all there was to telling this story, then any monkey could tell it, and Nolan would have his movie.  But there are some serious problems to explore. 

I’ll go ahead and point out the elephant in the room here: the Joker is needed to tell this story, and he would be conspicuous by his absence.  Moving on from that, there are not enough established rogues in the Nolanverse (and many he’s steered clear of purposefully) for the magnitude of this threat to be realized on the big screen.  Really, what do we have left, Scarecrow?  MWAH-HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  Riiiiiiight…  He had to have an A-list villain stoop to his level and carry out his only gimmick in Begins.  Don’t even get me started there.  So my guess here is they’re going to avoid Arkham outright?

Problem two: Azrael.  To tell this story properly, you need the character of Jean-Paul Valley, the man who would be Batman.  He’s the focus of the entire story, and omitting him is a lot like omitting Superman from a movie about Steel.  Oh wait, they tried that too.  Turned out well, didn’t it?  O-o.  The difference here is that Azrael needs a lot of setup, being an unknown to the general audiences and to most every comic book fan that didn’t keep up with the 90s comics.  But since the focus can’t possibly be to point out how heroic Batman truly is or should be -  since  Nolan’s already mucked that up twice before – the options for Bane’s storytelling potential is rapidly dwindling.

Problem three: Nolan’s Batman has no successor, temporary or permanent.  Without Azrael, and without the characters of Dick Grayson or Tim Drake, breaking the Bat is a pointless exercise unless the point is to kill him outright.  As much as I highly praise Batman: The Animated Series, the one major misstep they took was their introduction of Bane.  He tried (and failed) to break the Bat.  There’s no consequences for failure other than to achieve the ranks of the ho-hum, and thusly Bane comes across as being sort of pointless and comical for the wrong reasons, much like his appearance in Batman and Robin.

As watered down, dumbed down, or just plain wrong as the previous rogues may be in the Nolanverse, they’ve never been presented as pointless.  That said, all of these issues point to the possibility that Nolan intends to permanently cripple or kill Batman in his version of the story.  As much as I think that would be a fitting end to this trilogy of errors, I don’t want to have that sort of thing imprinted upon the minds of the following generations of fans.  It’s irresponsible storytelling at best.  Like it or not, kids will see this movie, and they are impressionable, and they look up to their heroes.  Didn’t you?  Of course you did.  At the very least, assuming this version of the story comes to pass, Nolan needs to divert the money he’ll make on this film to set up a trust fund to pay for all of the therapy bills.

Nolan may yet surprise even me.  I’m not counting on it, but it could happen.  Even with a track record, I keep things open to the idea of infinite possibility.  But as with all things anymore, I vote with my dollar – I’ll wait for Netflix.  If I’m somehow miraculously impressed, I’ll buy the blu-ray.  And for those of you who are fans of Nolan’s work, I truly hope your anticipations are fulfilled.