Which is scarier: hearing your friend talk about how terrified he was riding a rollercoaster, or experiencing the ride for yourself? More and more, modern-day movie villains are there as an obstacle for our hero with little or no character development. Would it really make that big of a difference if we could understand them? Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and The Russo Brothers’ Avengers: Infinity War & Avengers: Endgame both answer this question. After watching these films, we see that Nolan does a much better job at presenting Bane as an interesting character first, villain second, than the Russo Brothers did with their villain Thanos.
We are shown multiple times why Bane is a threat, whereas we’re only told how threatening Thanos is because characters say so. In Rises, there are multiple scenes that hold no purpose other than to show us how intimidating Bane is, specifically his strength. For example, The first time Bane and Batman meet, he absolutely destroys the caped crusader in a fight, breaking his back, and taking the main character out of the movie for around 40 minutes. While Bruce Wayne has scenes in that time period, Batman does not. When we first meet Thanos in Infinity War, the destruction he’s caused to Thor’s ship has already happened. Sure, he takes down the Hulk with no problem, but we’ve seen the Hulk take down much bigger enemies in previous films, so the scene shows us something we know couldn’t happen, thus losing the audience’s investment.
There is never a moment where we fear Thanos physically in either Infinity War or Endgame because we’re never shown how strong he is, only told through long unneeded scenes of exposition. Why can he survive things like regular bullets, getting stabbed in the heart and chest, or even having a building dropped on him? Because the script says so, no other reason. Bane, on the other hand, beats our hero with no problem, which is believable because there have been multiple scenes before this where we’re shown how deadly of a fighter he is. Rises does have moments where there is exposition to add to Bane’s character in this regard, but unlike Infinity War or Endgame, the film never relies on this.
It’s also important to add that Bane isn’t unstoppable; he can be defeated, with his main weakness being his mask, which adds to the suspense. Will Batman stop him? We’re never shown or told what can hurt Thanos, to the point where technically nothing can. This is shown at the end of Endgame when no one beats Thanos, they have to use the Infinity Gauntlet to snap him out of existence. This is a clever and super smart way to hide the fact that the writers couldn’t come up with an interesting action scene.
Many claimed that Infinity War feels different because Thanos wins, but let’s take one last look at that first encounter between Bane and Batman. This scene has another purpose: within the story, for many, Batman represents Hope. By having him gone for months Bane is able to enact his plan with no one willing to stop him. So for around an hour of the film, Bane wins. When Thanos defeats the Avengers on Titan it means nothing, because we’re told by Doctor Strange, “There was no other way.” Infinity War and Endgame are written to be treated as one long movie, so when we know there’s an entire 3 hours to fix this, all suspense is immediately thrown out the window.
Another reason the suspense is eliminated for Thanos is that his plan makes absolutely no sense in any known universe. Yes, we are given many reasons to understand his viewpoint, as a matter of fact, he is the character with the most screen time in Infinity War, but I can’t agree with him. Who in their right mind says, “Yes, let’s kill half the population of the universe”? He feels he should do this instead of making more supplies for the galaxy because, you guessed it, the script says so. In either Avengers film, this question is never brought up, probably because the writers wanted more screen time to watch Thor play Fortnite.
Bane’s viewpoint for bringing down Gotham and slowly destroying it is that, Batman killed the leader of his organization the League of Shadows, destroyed this same organization, and Gotham is filled with corrupt politicians. We saw Batman do these things in Batman Begins. What we learn in this film is that he’s right. We learn that after the events of The Dark Knight, Batman took the blame for all the crimes Harvey Dent committed in the 3rd act of that film, and with that Dent was perceived as a hero. Bane tells the world on television, reading a Letter from Commissioner Gordon who admits the many wrongdoings that have been done under Dent’s name. Bane manages to convince an entire city that there should be no governing force or laws, that whether criminals or not, the people should decide the rule of law. Which, as we see in the film, brings Gotham to nothing but anarchy.
Aren’t we told over and over by the media how corrupt politicians are, on both sides? Bane is scary because we’re very close to living in a world where he could exist or, one could argue, already does. When watching Infinity War and Endgame, we see our heroes talking about how scared of Thanos they are; when watching The Dark Knight Rises, we’re the ones who are scared. If a film is only as good as its villain, maybe Infinity War and Endgame aren’t as good as I remember.