Watching the new Dark Knight Rises trailer, I found myself drawn in right up until Bane spoke, and I realized that too much realism – in this case, the fact that wearing a mask over your mouth will make you potentially difficult to understand – can be a bad thing after all. Especially in a movie about a guy who dresses up like a giant rodent to fight crime. So why do it?
True, if there’s one thing that Christopher Nolan’s Batfilms are known for, it’s a stylized “realism” that foregoes so much of the traditional superhero scale and character work for something closer to the world that we live in, which not only draws viewers in by seeming more familiar, but also allowing the fantastic elements to appear bigger and bolder in comparison. Batman Begins set a particularly realistic tone, despite having an immortal villain (Immortality, weirdly enough, feels more grounded and real world than, say, a guy who dresses in a green bodysuit covered in question marks or someone who makes “waugh waugh” noises like a bird), with things getting a little more out there in The Dark Knight, what with more outlandish-looking villains on display.
And now we have The Dark Knight Rises, which looks – from the trailers released so far – to mix pieces of the DNA from both of Nolan’s previous Batmovies: The spectacle and scale of The Dark Knight (That amazing scene in the trailer where the football field collapses as the player runs!) with the more achievable, less visually-stunning villains of Batman Begins. Both Bane and Catwoman require relatively little suspension of disbelief (Pretty much as much as Batman himself requires, if not less), and considering the lack of Catwoman play we’ve seen so far compared with mentions of Selina Kyle, it’s clear that Nolan is planning to play that aspect up as he hurtles towards the end of his run with the franchise. Hence, therefore, a Bane who sounds as if he’s talking through a mask.
Thing is, we’ve become so used to unreality in our entertainment, to Spider-Man talking through his facemask without sounding muffled at all and everything similar, that this realism sounds… well, unreal. Or, at least, “wrong” enough to pull us out of what we’re watching and become too aware of the experience of watching it. Bane’s voice breaks the agreement between movie and viewer, intentionally or otherwise, and ruins the experience. It’s not that we can’t understand what he’s saying – It’s not necessarily easy, sure, but you can make it out if you try – but by having to try, the movie reminds you of your effort, your participation, and you’re suddenly no longer as able to just watch and enjoy everything as easily as you did before.
I can see why Nolan made the decision he did, in respect to Bane’s voice. But with all the outcry surrounding his choice, and with the negative effect it seems to be having on viewers, maybe he should think twice about how much realism a Batman movie really needs. After all, as someone once asked, why so serious?