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There are effectively two fist fights between Bane and Batman in The Dark Knight Rises: the first one in the sewers and the second one in the streets.

In the first one, Batman is very clearly overwhelmed and nearly killed in six separate ways. In the second one, however, Batman overpowers Bane in just a couple minutes because he aimed for the mask.

Which begs the question: why didn't Batman go for the mask in the first fight? The CIA Agent recognized the importance of the mask in the first scene of the movie, both laying out its importance to the audience and also showing that a relatively uninformed agent could piece together Bane's weakness, which should make it trivial for The World's Greatest Detective to figure out.

EDIT: Having watched both fight scenes again, Batman does go for some head blows during the first encounter. However, the blows sound like fleshy sounds compared to the metallic punching sounds of the second fight. Presumably to show that Batman's hitting the actual mask as opposed to the face behind it.

Also worth noting that Batman had way more clean punches in the first fight than the second one, which means way more of an opportunity to do some damage to the mask specifically.

For reference: First fight:

Second fight:

  • I don't remember - did he know the mask's purpose during the first encounter? Maybe he thought it could kill him? Not perfectly logical, but just thought about it... – Mario Apr 23 '16 at 6:38
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    I think the only time Batman is concretely told about the mask's explicit purpose is indirectly through hearing about Bane's origin story. – GGMG-he-him Apr 23 '16 at 6:40
  • "Why didn't Batman go for Bane's mask sooner" Didn't he, though? IIRC, he did try to hit Bane's mask earlier. Bane just dodged\blocked his punches. He manages to do it later on because he got better. – Walt Apr 23 '16 at 6:41
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The novelisation suggests that Batman didn't really know that the mask was a significant point of weakness until his trip to the pit. He'd already punched it a couple of times but nothing much had happened.

The prisoner sighed, perhaps realizing that Bruce would only keep asking. Or maybe he simply hoped to distract Bruce with a story. In any event, the European spoke softly, his voice hushed and doleful.

“Many years ago, during a time of plague, Bane was attacked by the other prisoners. The doctor’s fumbling attempts to repair the damage left him in perpetual agony. The mask delivers a gas that holds his pain at bay.”

Good to know, Bruce thought. “Is Bane the child you spoke of? Was he born here?”

On leaving, his thoughts turn to tactics. He notes that his first salvo will be against the mask, both because it's a weakness but also as payback for the damage that Bane did to his own mask.

“I’m not afraid,” Bruce countered. “I’m angry.” He punched the air, imagining Bane’s ugly face before him. He visualized that grotesque black mask cracking beneath his knuckles, the same way Bane had cracked Batman’s cowl. He couldn’t wait to get even.

Soon, he promised himself.

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    I don't like it, but I can't argue with it. Nicely done. – GGMG-he-him Apr 23 '16 at 14:10
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Batman doesn't go for Bane's mask; it's an accident, although a fortuitous one.

If you watch the second clip (01:00), Batman tries to counter with a back handed blow and it's actually the blade of his Vambrace that 'catches' Bane's mask on the way back, apparently unintentionally.

He didn't change strategy, he just got lucky.

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    From the novel; "Given time, he might even have succeeded, but Batman went after Bane’s own mask first. The blades on his forearm ripped across the breathing tubes that connected it to the tanks. The medicinal odor of the anesthetic spilled into the air." – user7812 Apr 23 '16 at 10:01
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    And from the script; "Bane smashes Batman’s head – moves in for the kill, but Batman smashes Bane to the ground, rips sideways across the tubes of Bane’s mask with the blades of his forearm. Bane bellows, thrashing in agony. Batman holds him down with a hand on his throat – searches him with his free hand." – user7812 Apr 23 '16 at 10:02
  • It's pretty clear that Batman was intentionally targeting Bane's mask. He'd been told that it was a weakness... – user7812 Apr 23 '16 at 10:03
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    The quote from the script makes sense, but doesn't necessarily infer it's a deliberate act. Novelisations are, in my opinion, not a very valid citation. They're always authored by someone else, and are typically used to cover cracks/inconsistencies. I think separation should always be observed. – John Smith Optional Apr 24 '16 at 11:58
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    You are, of course free to hold that opinion. I personally subscribe to the idea that the novelisation is merely another retelling of the script. When it's authorised by the studio, it usually has some level of input from the author and is (mostly) vetted before publication to make sure that it doesn't differ drastically from the intent of the movie. – user7812 Apr 24 '16 at 12:27
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Batman is a fair fighter and he usually tries to defeat his enemies in a fight from man to man. Furthermore, he doesn’t want to kill his enemies, but to punish them and bring them to court and into prison.

He is the law-abiding good guy, and simply doesn’t shoot somebody with a gun or kicks him in his balls or sticks his fingers in Bane’s eyes or rips his mask off.

Furthermore, Bane is also a fair fighter and assumes that he is the good guy and he imprisoned Batman and didn’t kill him even when it was possible for him. In short, fighting a fair fight is Batman’s code of conduct, because he believes in justice.

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