Like many people, I checked out Dark Knight Rises last weekend. I won’t go into a full review of it, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. A discussion led to me realizing that while I think Dark Knight is a better film, I’d probably find more replay value in Dark Knight Rises. It immediately brought to mind some similar feelings on Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Yeah, I know that Empire is the best, but nine times out of ten, I’d rather check out the optimistic conclusion.
After all, Dark Knight is the biggest downer in superhero movies. Three good people are ruined over the course of 2+ hours by a villain whose comeuppance doesn’t even fit the crime. It’s awesome and everyone’s great in it, but God, imagine if there wasn’t a sequel after that.
It’s not the only comparison I can make between the Batman and Star Wars movies. I mean, I’ve been describing Bane’s majestic villain voice as “Gentleman Darth Vader”. But it’s with Darth Vader that Bane shares a neat little similarity outside of the obvious.
It’s well agreed that the Star Wars prequels are garbage. There’s four hours of footage from Red Letter Media that explain it better than I ever could. Still, there are little aspects that work. One of them is something somebody pointed out to me years ago that I’m unsure of whether it was intended or not. The idea is that Darth Vader is the cumulative villain.
The prequels are famous for having ruined one of the most iconic and badass movie villains of all time and retconning him into a mopey loser with issues… and not even cool issues. Well, except for that time he went on a killing spree. That was pretty rad. While the three movies were set on deconstructing him and ruining his mystique, there was an unrelated building of him going on all along.
In Phantom Menace, we are introduced to Darth Maul. While being a selling point for the movie with his dynamic look and flashy double lightsaber, Maul doesn’t have much in terms of identity. By definition, he was Palpatine’s apprentice and was fueled by hate. Interestingly enough, in an issue of Star Wars Tales, they have Vader fight a resurrected Darth Maul and it’s explained that Vader wins because nothing in Maul’s soul can match the hate that Vader has for himself.
But anyway, the original Maul is killed by Obi-Wan, so he’s a failure.
Then in Attack of the Clones we have Count Dooku. Dooku was once a Jedi before becoming disillusioned with the Council and becoming taken in by the Dark Side. He too dies, betrayed by his own master when Palpatine had his sights set on a more superior lackey. A situation that would almost be repeated many years later.
Rounding it out is General Grievous from Revenge of the Sith, introduced in the first Clone Wars cartoon. Fittingly, he was originally portrayed as a frightening and badass force of darkness until showing up in the prequels turned him into a tremendous pussy. The wheezing cyborg gets killed off, also at the hands of Obi-Wan.
Three villains rise and fall because they aren’t complete. Then by the end of the trilogy, we get a hybrid. A hate-filled Sith apprentice. A regal Jedi turncoat. A killer cyborg with a bad set of lungs. Bad storytelling and dialogue may have ruined the character in ways, but through those three defeated villains from the past, you have pieces of what made him such a compelling bad guy. And that’s neat!
So what does this have to do with Batman? It has more to do with Bane. He sure did improve cinematically from his days as a flexing, rubbery monster that tended to yell, “BOMB!” whenever planting an explosive. His reinvention for Rises is a strong one, no pun intended. It was after seeing the movie that I started to realize that Bane has the same thing going for him as Vader. Bane is the cumulative villain of the series.
In the first movie, we have Scarecrow. The fear monger doesn’t have much going for him in terms of the character department, but he does have his gimmick of using gas as his weapon. Bane is also about spreading fear, but while he doesn’t use gas to do so, he does use gas to make himself impervious to pain. I thought that that was an inventive way to recreate the venom steroid gimmick. I also like the contrast that Scarecrow wears a gasmask to keep the gas out while Bane wears a gasmask to keep the gas in.
The tie-in with Ra’s Al Ghul speaks for itself, really. Bane’s big plot is a revenge scheme in Ra’s's name and he’s taken over his racket to do what Ra’s intended back in the first movie.
Bane, like Harvey Dent, is a false idol. By exposing Two-Face’s truth, Bane ends up becoming a figurehead for this big revolution when he’s really a monster in a prophet’s clothing. Not to mention, both act as rather righteous people (as righteous as you can be in that prison) until their good deeds lead to horrible facial mutilation that drives each man to madness.
Then there’s the Joker. Bane shares more with the Joker than he does with any of the rest, including Ra’s. Their opening scenes are actually quite similar. They’re both introduced in heists where they disguise themselves and have their unique appearances put under question, only to get out while sacrificing their henchmen. They’re both introduced as mercenaries, hired by men in suits to help destroy Batman/Bruce Wayne. It isn’t until too late that these bosses find out that they themselves are gears in a far more sinister plan. While Joker and Bane are equally as competent, Bane is a bit more focused and succeeds in bringing chaos to Gotham for an extended amount of time.
It should be noted that Bane masters what Joker truly wanted. Joker insists that he’s a harbinger of chaos, but that’s not entirely true. Joker wants chaos as controlled by him and can’t handle that chaos, by definition, cuts both ways. That’s what gives some semblance of satisfaction to his defeat in Dark Knight. After all this time boasting about how great it is to be unpredictable, the boat plot doesn’t go the way he predicted/planned and it pisses him off.
Like some Bane stories, he’s also a dark mirror of Batman. Here, it’s a little more on the nose, with him also being painted as the rebel who split away from the League of Shadows. I find it interesting that Alfred’s concern over Bane’s prowess is a little misdirected, at least to how I read it. Like, part of the movie is a take on Dark Knight Returns, so the first place my mind goes to with the warnings of how good Bane is is that Bane is young and Batman is too old to contend (a lot of people called that Bane would be something of a stand-in for the Mutant Leader from Dark Knight Returns and they aren’t wrong). Yet it turns out that not only is Bane not so young due to the chronology revealed from his origin, but he could be as much as ten years OLDER than Bruce. It doesn’t matter because he has his shit together in ways that Batman doesn’t after sitting it out for eight years on a bum leg.
Batman ends up having to face not only his evil self, but an evil self merged with all of his rogues. That is an awesome threat and makes his victory that much better. Unfortunately, once Bane is defeated one-on-one, that makes him a non-factor and Talia takes over the show. Just like Vader taking the backseat to Palpatine in Return of the Jedi, only Vader got the better follow-up.
The cumulative villain concept is a great one in that brings everything full circle. Right here as I write this conclusion, I realize that despite everything, it’s the Batman part of Bane that really acts as the biggest antagonist to overcome. Alfred chides Batman for his deathwish and partial hope to die at Bane’s hands. Yet Bane doesn’t even have that superiority over him after all. Bane is fully prepared to die himself and that’s even the final part of his plan. I’d like to think that part of the reason Batman defeated Bane in the end isn’t because he simply got in better shape than he was in the previous fight. It was because he wasn’t fighting for the sake of fighting, but fighting for the sake of winning, surviving and making sure everybody else survives. It’s life vs. nihilism instead of nihilism vs. nihilism and not only does he win by using his brain alongside his heart, but when given the chance to die heroically, he chooses to Houdini himself out of there anyway.
“This will be a good life… Good enough.”