No Pain No BANE – Tom ‘Hardman’ Hardy

Bane Dark Knight Rises football stadium two turntables and a microphone
He’s got two turntables and a microphone

Of the three Nolan Batman films, I feel that The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest.

The performances are good, the movie is spectacular in just about every way with meticulous production design, cinematography, an epic score and all the usual bells and whistles.  It’s got emotion, heart and pathos.

Nolan pulls out all the stops and delivers an epic over the top memorable Batman film.

However, Dark Knight Rises also has gaping plot holes too big to jump over even in that magical Tumbler.

Repeated viewings are not so much fun as tedious exercises in looking past the bad to find the good.

Tom Hardy plays Bane, a one-dimensional gimmick villain from the comics that I really can’t stand, but somehow Hardy manages to take a character I could not give a crap about, and not only make him compelling, but actually likable and sympathetic.

When I watched the Dark Knight Rises for the fourth and fifth time, it was to enjoy Tom Hardy’s Bane, as many other elements of the film just don’t work in my opinion, and even fly in the face of what Batman stands for.

But the cinematic Batman is its own mini-universe, and Chris Nolan has license to do whatever he wants.

While the scope of the film effectively ramps up the tension and large scale mayhem from The Dark Knight’s claustrophobic riff on Micheal Mann’s Heat, it seems to come unraveled with plot holes and too many “THAT’s why he did that… really….no, REALLY?” type moments.

The first much anticipated viewing of Dark Knight Rises at the local sticky floored multiplex had me genuinely annoyed that Batman is so easily beaten by Batman, and he made so many bone-headed rookie mistakes in the film.  That was not the comic book Batman we know and love.  But hey, it is a movie adaptation, and they are doing their own thing.

I just don’t have to agree with it.  And yes I did just say Batman beat Batman and not Bane, why?  Well it was a typo, but I reread the sentence and you know what?  Batman DID beat Batman.  He beat himself by being out of condition and ill-prepared for an enemy he knew next to nothing about, idiot!

Bruce Wayne was Batman for like two times in those other movies, then he sat on his ass for around eight years doing nothing, moping about some woman who chose to be with a good guy turned sociopath rather than him.  Cry me a river Bruce.  Great work, way to stay in shape and keep your edge, way to stay true to your vision of your war on crime and avenging the death of your parents, and the whole “never give up” thing, well done mate.

What the heck was Bruce Wayne doing for all that time?  I hope he didn’t just watch television while wearing turtle necks ala Michael Keaton’s Batman.  Did you ever notice that Tim Burton never let you see Bruce Wayne’s neck?  Kind of weird if you ask me.  What was that about, was he planning to turn Batman into a vampire in that cancelled third Burton Batman film? Because I would watch that film.

Bane sewers batman fight

The epic scope of Dark Knight Rises is sometimes criticised as being the type of large scale scenario that is outside of Batman’s abilities. The city being taken over and the imminent threat of a nuclear bomb seems more like the sort of thing Superman could handle without breaking a sweat.

Putting aside the rampant plot holes, the logical inconsistencies and all the things that a very out character Batman does seemingly without reasons

Shifting focus from what I didn’t like, what is there that I did like about Dark Knight Rises?

By about the third viewing, I started to warm up to Tom Hardy’s Bane.  Tom Hardy is a brilliant actor whose career has gone from strength to strength.  I have enjoyed following his various film roles, my favourite films with Hardy being the Nic Cave penned Lawless, followed by Warrior with Joel Edgerton and eternal booze-hound and swear machine that is Nic Nolte.  I like Hardy in just about everything.

He is not quite the chameleon-type of actor like Gary Oldman, but Hardy disappears into any role he sinks his teeth into. Let us be clear, I don’t like Bane.  He is a gimmick character who is rather boring and shallow, so I was not easily won over by Hardy in Dark Knight Rises.

When I first read that Bane was to be a villain in Nolan’s third Bat-film, I felt a cold shiver down my spine not felt since the words Joel Schumacher and Batman were uttered in hushed tones for fear that even mentioning said words would warrant a rather justified public hanging.

Bane is boring and dumb.  I had no belief whatsoever that any film with that character would be a a good film.  But now when I think of the film, Tom Hardy’s Bane is really the only good reason to watch the movie.

Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman all do serviceable jobs, but they are just rehashing what they have already perfected in the previous two films, and at times they just feel redundant in a very busy film.  Alfred and Lucius seem to exist in the Dark Knight Rises just to give exposition and push the plot forward.  Sure you could say the same of the previous two Nolan Bat-films, but here they feel non-essential.

Bane Dark Knight Rises plane scene painful for you
It would be very painful…. FOR YOU

Somehow, Tom Hardy’s Bane becomes the performance to watch in Dark Knight Rises.  He is genuinely un-nerving and scary with his strong man physique juxtaposed with the bizarre choice of an aristocratic Englishman’s voice.

Bane is just creepy enough to be scary.  He is strange enough to be a Bond henchman ala Jaws or Oddjob, but surprisingly much smarter than a henchman, and fans are still debating who the real villain / mastermind was in Dark Knight Rises.  What could have turned out to have been the most unintentionally camp villain in a Nolan Batman film, instead becomes a performance of a very driven, obsessive, intelligent and capable man.

A man not unlike Batman himself.

Whether Bane is the mastermind of the plot to give Batman grey hair at an early age and that whole thing with the Nuclear bomb set to blow Gotham to teeny tiny pieces or actually just a pawn of Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul is never clearly established.

Was Talia the master planner who used Bane?  Did Bane use Talia?  Were both merely pawns of the deceased Ra’s Al Ghul?  All are valid speculations, and Nolan loves to keep fans guessing about the “official” version of events in his films.

Unlike some directors who leave things open ended (which Nolan also has a habit of doing) Nolan always has his official version of events that is not revealed to the fans or press.  But sometimes, even years later he leaks out little morsels, little crumbs to salivating fans eager to promote or debunk the latest Inception or Batman theory.

On a sidenote, I really like Schumacher’s other films such as Tigerland, The Client, A Time to Kill, Falling Down and Phone Booth.  He is a decent director, but any Batfan knows the two Batman films he directed were terrible films on nearly every level.  But Schumacher is not solely to blame, Batman Returns is bizarrely the darkest most messed up of all the Batman films ever made, and yet slides into cheesy camp territory before Schumacher was even a whisper around the water cooler.

Oh wait, you don’t think Returns is all that dark?  Let’s see, for your consideration, in The Dark Knight the Joker puts a pencil in some guys eye, (a criminal) and blows up at empty hospital building.  In Batman Returns two parents try to kill their newborn baby, then Batman sets a guy on fire and leaves him to burn to death.  That is just the first fifteen minutes.  It gets worse.

Getting back on track, the anti-climactic first fight of Batman vs Bane is so one sided that Batman is laughable, but then he had been sitting at home for several years moping and doing nothing.  Perhaps taking a leaf out of Keaton’s Batman and watching a lot of television in turtle necks.

The second fight scene between Batman and Bane packs plenty of punch. While the brief fight with Batman and Bane in amid the crazy crowd under a blanket of fresh snow is just a prelude to Talia and the eventual saving of Gotham City, in this scene the actors actually make contact with one another.

Bane vs Batman  dark knight rises snow tom hardy close up with creepy eyes

Christopher Nolan is a brilliant film maker, he makes blockbuster films, but with brains.  The cinematography and film scores are top notch.  However, one area that is a consistent let down in the Nolan Bat trilogy is the fight choreography, which looks like pre-matrix era american action movies.

Not Batman Forever levels of awfulness, but noticeable enough to anyone who has grown up watching Hong Kong action flicks of the seventies and eighties.  Take the worst Jacky Chan or Jet Li movie from the eighties, and the fights scenes are one hundred times better than anything you will see in the Nolan Batman films.

Why?  Well, the Hong Kong action movies get by on their action, and little to no story.  The genuine martial arts and amazing stunt men (and women) of asian action cinema took the world by storm with the rise of Kung-fu cinema in the seventies, and it took Hollywood decades to catch up. Notably the Wachowski Brothers worked with Yuen Woo Ping on The Matrix.

The Matrix was the first mainstream american Hollywood film to really embrace the superior technical knowledge of asian choreographers that people actually watched.  Once you had watched The Matrix you could not un-watch it.

Seeing John Wayne throwing haymakers in old western films (or any of the generic and boring movie fight scenes that followed in his wake in american cinema) just would never seem the same again.  But take another look at the fight scenes in Batman Forever or Batman and Robin  (made just two years earlier) and see how laughably bad the fights are.  You will cringe if you freeze frame and take a look at the cut-aways and absolute nonsense on display.

Coming back to Dark Knight Rises –  in the first fight between Bane and Batman, they barely touch each.  While the fight has emotional impact, and the sound makes us feel how brutal the beat down for Batman is, freeze framing any part of the fight (or playing it in slow motion) will show the actors are often several feet apart from one another, and it is even noticeable at full speed if you really pay attention.

Bane vs Batman mugshot dark knight rises snow
The much anticipated final round of “Dancing with the Stars”

In asian action movies, by and large there is contact.  Often you have amazing stunt men and women, genuine martial artists, acrobats, athletes and stunt professionals who are not afraid to get roughed up.  By contrast, in Hollywood the studios have to protect their stars, have all sorts of insurance issues to worry about and so actors rarely fight.  Cue the stunt people, they come in an do the hard work, and generally don’t get any credit for risking their necks.

While Hollywood post-Matrix has embraced better fight and stunt choreographers, allowing the open influence of the superior Hong Kong action cinema methods, Dark Knight Rises really drops the ball.  In american action movies (or movies in general) the actors don’t actually hit each other, they stand slighty askew, and the camera makes it look like they are getting hit with clever angles.

But in Dark Knight Rises, you can actually see the wrong angles that show the two actors not hitting each other.  On repeat views, the hardcore brutal fight scene with Bane demolishing the ineffective out of shape Batman, it becomes laughably bad.  Once you notice the bad camera angles and cuts, you can’t un-notice it.  This is really just me nit-picking here, but in future if a Nolan film has a fight scene, I am not saying I want Ninja Turtles and Kung-fu masters flying through the air and doing spin kicks.  Not at all.

Whether showing a martial artist like Batman or an ordinary Joe Billy Bob in a bar room brawl, what needs to be improved is the shot showing the close up action and mid-distance action.  This can be improved simply by bringing on a consultant who already knows not just how to stage fights for the cinema screen, but how to shoot fights for the cinema screen.  Both skills are essential, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.  By and large American cinema has dramatically improved the staging of fight scenes since the old days of ham-fisted Westerns.  American cinema has been a tremendous innovator of action cinema and stunt work.

Bane is awesome_publicity shot_dark knight rises 549x600

When it comes to big-budget big-spectacle action films, America is the world leader.  But when it comes to showing up close and personal fights, whether ring fights, bar fights, or martial arts chop-socky, Hong Kong kicks the rest of the worlds collective ass.  Yet, strangely when it comes to World War II films, American cinema manages to display reasonable combat scenes, usually due to having ex-military experts on consulting duties.

There is place for every type of fight choreography.  A Punisher film should look and feel different from a Batman film, a Batman film should look and feel different from a Captain America film, Crank, Rambo, Commando, Police Story, Kill Bill, Enter the Dragon, Ong Bak, Scott Pilgrim and friends should all look and feel like independent entities with their own unique styles of fights from realistic to cartoonish and anything in between.

Rarely is any sort of combat shown in a realistic manner on screen outside of a military context. Pseudo-military influenced entertainment like James Bond, Bourne and Jack Bauer in 24 while moving closer to fight/combat realism than the typical cartoonish action movies such as Rambo are still far removed from reality, but convincing enough to do the job.

My point is there is an infinite variety of cinematic fight styles and choreography styles, and it is the job of the director, writer and producer to identify what is most relevant to their film, and if they don’t know, find somebody who does know and ask them.

The fight scene in the sewers between Bane and Batman – the two Titans of Gotham – has so many bad camera angles that while “selling” the fight, also make the fight look ridiculous on repeat viewings to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of action cinema and fight choreography.

The fight scenes are passable to a general audience.  But a LOT of that geek audience has been watching action movies most of their lives, and they know the language of cinema, and the language of action.

A significant number of fans like wrestling, comics, UFC, Batman and other cool shit.  They have read Batman comics and watched UFC for a decade, and when Batman fights worse than the lower tier fighters in UFC, well that just looks bad any day of the week.  Batman is supposed to be an expert martial artist, and yet he flails his arms like a little school girl in the first fight with Bane.  The best he can do is cover up like a boxer facing Rocky or Clubber Lang, Bane reigns down one merciless blow after another, and Batman does virtually nothing.  In the second fight at the end of the film, the actors are much closer together.

Bane vs Batman punch dark knight rises

In the second encounter, Batman is now the stronger willed fighter back in top form after training and out matches Bane.  Batman is hungry for the win.  Bane is now the one on the receiving end of a beat down courtesy of Batman, who fights a little closer to how we would expect him to, but still manages to look like a bit a jack ass because of the obvious limitations of the costume he is wearing, and the fact that we are (for the most part) watching an actor and not a stunt person.

I don’t know how much of the fight scene is Christian Bale and how much is the stunt double, (and we should not notice with good editing and creative camera angles, or it takes you out of the bloody film) but there is enough Bale in there and the scene has much better camera shots than the first fight between Bane and Batman. The second fight feels much better, it looks better close up and far away.  If you go frame by frame (and I did) there are no glaringly obvious flaws.  Pound for pound it is a better screen fight.  Also if you watch Bane and Batman in slow motion in this scene it looks like they are dancing, in a rather weird and creepy way that makes me want to see it on Youtube with pop music.

Bane / Hardy notably shifts his bodyweight back and forth, pivoting on his feet displaying the kinetic chain of powerful punches good strikers are known for, the picture above shows him pivoting his feet, snapping his hips and whipping his arms into Batman’s body in a flurry of merciless bodyshots.

Batman Bane Dark Knight Rises punch rock em sock em robots

Perhaps I am picking on this one element of the film too much, but my background in martial arts, watching action movies all my life, reading way too many Batman comics and expecting more of Christopher Nolan just makes it hard for me not to be hyper-critical.

I really dig The Dark Knight Rises.  It gets a lot right.  It is a phenomenal  spectacle of a film that is brilliant to watch, but it makes some critical errors that are hard for any Bat-Fan to ignore.  Had it been a smaller tighter paced film, perhaps it would have had fewer plot holes and head scratching moments.

But fans and studios demand more in big budget action movie sequels.  And more of everything is what we got.  More action, more explosions. Bigger explosions.  More explody explosions.  Angrier Batmen.  Hotter Women.  More plot.  More… everything.

More is not always better, but we keep asking for it, so it keeps showing up.  We really only have ourselves to blame.  In the case of Batman I want a good story.  I don’t think more is better.  If I watch Jason Statham in Crank then yeah, more is better in that scenario because it is a movie that is vapid, shallow and pointless, and  I love it for what it is.   A hyper-kinetic insane movie of “top-this” ludicrous series of events, set-pieces and lashings of the old ultra-violence turned up to ’11’.

In Dark Knight Rises Tom Hardy effectively becomes the Darth Vader of the nolan Bat-Trilogy.  He has the mask and creepy voice, and we really don’t know what it is that he wants – other than to destroy the life of Batman and break the will of Gotham City.  He is just a really nasty, smart and evil guy you do not want to mess with.  It is not an easy task to act with your face obscured, particularly the mouth.

Tom Hardy gives a mesmerising performance as Bane, effectively using his body language, his voice and he says a lot with his eyes.  Bane is a bad guy, but one we can’t help but feel some sympathy for.  He may be a monster, but his reasons are far more human and relatable than the Joker or Ra’s Al Ghul.

He is perhaps the most humane villain we have seen in a Batman film, despite being a killer and potentially part of a death cult who presumably will be killed along with the citizens of Gotham in the planned nuclear explosion.  He will kill you and beat you mercilessly, but he will also give you a damned good reason for why he did, and you will be hard pressed to disagree with his reasoning.  He would make a great salesman.

In Bane we can see a brutal and ruthless man dedicated to his cause, but also a small and timid boy, a wounded soul not unlike Batman himself, born in tragedy and pain.  The comic book version of Bane, who appears to be like a muscle bound idiot was the creation of Chuck Dixon.  In the first Bane story Vengeance of Bane, (a 64 page one shot that introduces the character as a prelude to the Knightfall storyline) Bane is established as being very smart and very strong.

A self-made man like Batman who studies and perfects his mind and body while in a harsh South American prison run by a corrupt warden.  Born into captivity, prison is the only life he has known.  That he not only survived, but thrived in that environment is a testament to his strength of character and mental resolve.  Like Batman, he too is a creature of will power, strength, intelligence and emotional trauma.

Bane was still basically a gimmick character to “break the bat”.  A big strong bruiser of a man to mess up Batman conceived in the same era as Superman died at the hands of the mindless killing machine Doomsday.  Unlike Doomsday, Bane has as much brains as brawn.  He is more than a simplistic character, yet he is still a throw away gimmick character that I really don’t care for.

Except when Tom Hardy breathes raspy charismatic life into him, then I care about Bane, I feel something for Bane. Without tom Hardy, I don’t think Dark Knight Rises would be worth watching more than one time.  He takes a flawed film and salvages something in it that makes it worth repeat viewing.

I’ll be watching The Dark Knight again every year that I live, but Dark Knight Rises not so much.  And I’ll always remember the time that Nolan and Tom ‘Hardman ‘Hardy made me care about a character who I thought was lame and stupid. Hardy transforms Bane into a very flawed, passionate, dedicated, and horrible human being, who remains deeply human and strangely relatable, like the best villains such as Darth Vader or Dr Doom.

And yeah that mask is not connected to ANYTHING.  Seriously, WTF?

Bane Batman  dark knight rises sad face

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