There’s nothing better than a well-written villain.
There’s villains you love to hate (Loki of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and villains you hate to hate (Joffrey of Game of Thrones). Either way, they make or break a story. Villains aren’t just evil masterminds set on world domination (not if they’re good villains). They provide moral conflict for our heroes, place them in impossible situations where there is no right answer, no good choice.
A good villain makes the hero question their own motives, provides catalysts of character growth, plants seeds for further plot development even long after they’ve been defeated.
You’d have to have lived under a rock to not know most of Batman’s biggest villains. Forty years of Batman film history (not including Adam West’s television fame) has guaranteed that any casual moviegoer can name at least a few of the Dark Knight’s nemeses. The Joker, most obviously (he’s even worse in the comics, you don’t even know). The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, the Scarecrow, the Riddler. All have left a lasting impression on the Batman.
My favorite is Bane. God, the name alone sends shivers down my spine!
I won’t say he’s had the greatest impact on Batman, because the Joker’s murdered and crippled several members of the Bat Family and that definitely tops the list of traumatic experiences, but Bane is up there. In case you didn’t know, he’s the one that broke Batman’s back. Literally.
Like many bandwagon fans, I learned of Bane first through the Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises. The movie itself isn’t my favorite to be honest, but Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane steals the show every time he steps into frame. I never thought evil, masked beefcake was my type, but damn. It is. Hardy’s Bane is eloquent and charismatic, but fights primal and brutal. He’s a goddamn force of nature. Unstoppable, intelligent, a gale force wind. Gotham’s reckoning. Fuck.
Nolan’s Bane is conceptually very different from Bane of the comics. Comic book Bane wears a luchador mask, hails from a fictional Latin island in the Caribbean, and operates off a super-steroid called Venom that runs directly into his brain and spinal chord. Much of Nolan’s origin story for Bane/Talia al Ghul is taken from comic book lore. Bane is born in prison to serve his father’s life sentence. Through much hardship and isolation he becomes massively ripped, learns six languages, and reads books like a chain-smoker lights up. He earns the loyalty of the inmates, and upon escaping by faking his death and fighting a bunch of sharks, he returns to stage a breakout. From there he plots the defeat of the Batman and the subjugation of Gotham.
Batman is greatly challenged in various ways by his numerous opponents. Joker’s insanity and criminal mastermind, Penguin’s resources and network, Poison Ivy’s unique proclivity and control of plants. They make for fun and interesting stories. But here’s what makes Bane different: he is Batman’s equal. Now, I’ve only read as far as the late 90’s at this point so I don’t know everything, but as far as I know Bane is the only villain to defeat Batman in a one-on-one fight. It’s a duel that ends with bane snapping Batman’s spine. It’s truly chilling.
It wasn’t a fair fight (Bane’s hopped up on ‘roids, Batman hasn’t slept in a month and is physically and emotionally worn down by the time he confronts Bane). But even so, it’s not just his physical prowess that makes him a phenomenal match for Batman. Bane planned for months and released the Arkham Asylum inmates to keep Batman busy. He’s crazy smart and knows how to play the long game. His victory over Batman wasn’t just fisticuffs. It was calculated yet animalistic.
In Nolan’s conclusion to his Dark Knight trilogy, Bane speaks slowly, casually, to a defeated Bruce Wayne. For being so vicious, Bane is not ruled by rage. He’s far too controlled for that. No. He leans in, quiet, slightly muffled by his horrific mask, and says,
“When Gotham is ashes…. Then you have my permission to die.”
If you don’t think that’s the coolest shit then get outta my face.