You know, I was absolutely sure that the villain roles in The Dark Knight Rises were going to be Professor Hugo Strange and Talia Al Ghul. It just made sense. Nolan said that his third Batman films anatagonists would not have appeared in any previous Bat-films (I did not dream this, by the way, but, most irritatingly, I now can’t bloody find the article in question where said quotation featured) and not only did those two eminently fit in to Nolan’s realist Bat-universe, Talia Al Ghul would create a direct overarcing link to Batman Begins (being the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul, played by Liam Neeson and who, in the comics, was long deemed to be be Batman’s perfect mate) and Strange would potentially have an ideal link to the climax to The Dark Knight as, in the comics, the charater was instrumental in whipping up anti-Batman sentiment in Gotham. He’d also make a fantastic foe for Batman on a psychological level – he literally wanted to be Batman – and one would have thought that concept would have been catnip for Nolan. The very idea of them being in Nolan’s final film was an irresistable proposition. To me, they made sense and the more I thought about it, the more sense they made. Yep, they fit the bill.
Instead, Anne Hathaway has been cast as Catwoman and Tom Hardy will be playing Bane, the extremely-musclebound, drug-enhanced villain who gained instant infamy in 1993 for breaking Batman’s back in the Knightfall series. Despite the huge amount of trust I have in Nolan in shepherding the franchise – which he’s absolutely earned in full – I found myself woefully disappointed with the confirmed casting. It’s certainly not the choice of actors: Hardy, in particular, is a brilliant actor capable of incendiary performance (Brosnan) and possesses no shortage of charm (Inception); Hathaway, when given the right role, taps in to hidden depths that are never reached with the dire, by-the-numbers, rom-coms she keeps appearing in. That she’s beautiful goes without saying.
It’s the characters. I can perfectly understand the choice of Catwoman: she’s one of the best known figures in Batman’s extensive Rogues Gallery and a key love interest for Batman/Bruce Wayne. She could certainly fit in to Nolan’s universe with no problem at all. Really, it’s a “been there, seen that” reservation, given that we’ve seen Catwoman done memorably in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, as played by Michelle Pfeiffer. However, that was nearly twenty yearsago and I freely acknowledge that mine is now the perspective of an “older audience demographic” (God, how it pains me to type that…) and therefore not really a relevant one. If Catwoman is to make her big screen return, then we could do a lot worse than Hathaway. (And, in Halle Berry, have done).
Knowing that Bane is the key antagonist of The Dark Knight Rises, however, is more than a little disappointing. I’m genuinely mystified as to how Bane became a more attractive option for inclusion over the likes of Hugo Strange. Even back in the 90’s, it was abundantly clear that Bane was defined by his infamy – “the man who broke The Bat” – as opposed to his being a decent character, much like Doomsday in Superman. In recent years, the character has been significantly refined and broadened by Gail Simone via his inclusion in DC’s The Secret Six series, but, even then, I still can’t see the narrative pluses – save for the obvious one: he’s unquestionably a physically-threatening character of the kind that Nolan’s Batman has not faced had yet, so perhaps this is the impetus for his inclusion.
It is, of course, much, much too early to say. Certainly, one must have faith in the highly-competent Nolan, who has so far made admirably bold steps with the franchise and if anyone can finally create a superhero trilogy that doesn’t falter at the last film, it’s him. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that the Hardy will craft a dull villain. It’s very easy to be instantly set against the idea of Bane because of his moronic appearance in 1997’s woeful Batman and Robin, where he was reduced to a musclebound retard. You can expect Nolan’s incarnation to be quite, quite different. In Nolan We Trust, etc. Still. Hugo Strange would have been ideal…