Movie Editor's Blog

Movie Editor's Blog

The tragic story of the original Bane

Tom Hardy won rave reviews for his portrayal of drug-addled Batman villain Bane in 'The Dark knight Rises'. But he's not the first actor to have donned the scary mask and put on a silly distorted voice.

Fans of terrible films will remember that the character showed up in the hallucinogenic neon car-crash 'Batman And Robin' back in 1997. A film so bad that even star George Clooney said at the time: "I think we might have killed the franchise". He was right, for a few years at least.

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One of the many reasons the film outraged Bat-fans was the treatment of Bane, one of the series' most fearsome, brutal and intelligent villains.

Insane... Robert Swenson's Bane in 'Batman and Robin' (Copyright: YouTube)

He was played by Robert Swenson, a moderately successful professional wrestler who went by the name 'Jeep Swenson' in World Class Championship Wrestling back in the 1980s. There's not much written about his wrestling career, but he did have a feud with some guy called Bruiser Brody.

He also showed up in the WCW, going by the distinctly inappropriate moniker 'The Final Solution'.  Swenson said he wasn't aware of the historical connotations and after complaints from Jewish groups this was changed to 'The Ultimate Solution'.

Built... Robert 'Jeep' Swenson (Copyright: YouTube)

By the late 80s, with his wrestling career stalling, Swenson began to branch out into Hollywood. A man who apparently had "the biggest biceps in the world" was always going to find work as a goon in action films, and so it proved.

Swenson's first role was as an uncredited 'Thug' in early Jackie Chan movie 'The Big Brawl'. Next up was apparently awful action/wrestling flick 'No Holds Barred'. The trailer is INCREDIBLE.

His part in 'Bulletproof' was meatier. The Adam Sandler/Damon Wayans' buddy movie was critically reviled, but Swenson had a (fairly) major role in the film playing drug lord James Caan's henchman.

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Presumably it brought him to the attention of Hollywood biggest bigwigs, as Swenson was then signed up to play Bane in the fourth Batman film.

Cast your minds back to 1996; a time before Bat-nipples and the line "The Iceman Cometh". Joel Schumacher's second Batman film was expected to be a smash hit at the box office (and actually did okay, making more than $200 million).

The problem for Swenson was that the Bane of 'Batman And Robin' wasn't the Bane of the comics. The character was most famous for the superb 'Knightfall' story arc, which saw Bane break Batman's back after pushing him to his physical and psychological limits. He was a brutal genius.

Original... Bane as he was in the comics (Copyright: DC Comics)

Not so much in 'Batman And Robin'.

Speaking on the DVD, Paul Dini, the writer/producer of 'Batman: The Animated Series', said: "In the comics… we have seen the criminal masterminds who have matched Batman both in physical might and cleverness. [For the film] they wanted to go the other way with Bane..." In other words: he was an idiot.  Joel Schumacher described him at "Poison Ivy's pitbull..."

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His back story was also totally changed. He became a frail convict dosed with experimental drug Venom, rather than the hardened product of young offenders' institutions.

Swenson's job was to literally shout his own name, clumsily fight George Clooney and help redecorate Poison Ivy's lair. Because the character was so beloved by fans, his utter mishandling was perhaps even more upsetting than Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze (no mean feat).

In an IGN write-up of Bane's onscreen history, they said: "Clearly, there was little for fans to enjoy with this interpretation of the [Bane]. Unfortunately, 'Batman And Robin' has had a lingering negative effect on the character. Many Bat-fans unfamiliar with the comics only know Bane from this movie. Is it any wonder some panicked when Bane was announced for 'The Dark Knight Rises'?"

New kid on the block... Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (Copyright: Warner Bros.)

Vulture described him more succinctly: "When it was time for Christopher Nolan & Co. to craft their Bane, they already had a template. All they had to do was the complete opposite of everything that Joel Schumacher & Co. did."

What's sadder than these write-ups? Swenson never got to read them. He tragically died of a heart failure on 18 August 1997, just two months after the release of 'Batman And Robin'. He was just 40.

It's not totally clear why he had a heart attack at such a relatively young age, but he joined the depressingly long list of wrestling stars who have died prematurely.

Hulk Hogan and James Caan apparently both gave eulogies at his funeral. We're sure these were far more fitting epitaphs to Swenson than his bad, bonkers performance in 'Batman And Robin'.

Watch the trailer for 'The Dark Knight Rises':