Posts Tagged ‘Catwoman’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published August 19th 2004:

And so the fight-back starts here. With movies based on Marvel Comics’ stable of characters having grossed over two billion dollars over the last five years, their old rivals at DC have decided to launch their retaliation with Jean-Christophe ‘Pitof’ Comar’s Catwoman, in which Halle Berry spends a lot of time bending over. That she does this in a movie supposedly about feminine empowerment gives you some idea of the magnitude of the intellects we’re dealing with.

Berry plays Patience Philips, a dowdy commercial artist employed by nasty cosmetics tycoon George Hedare (Lambert Wilson doing his snotty Frenchman schtick again). When she discovers that her boss’ new line of face cream is toxic, Hedare’s wife (Sharon Stone, battling heroically with a chronically one-dimensional part) has her flushed into the harbour.

However, luckily for Patience she is given mouth-to-mouth by a passing magic Egyptian cat, and she is resurrected with various feline powers (for some reason these include telescopic vision and the ability to stick to walls) with which to… well, do whatever she feels like. You go girl! None of that ‘with power comes responsibility’ stuff here! Having been apprised of her situation by daffy lunatic Ophelia (daffy lunatic specialist Frances Conroy from Six Feet Under, slumming it), Patience sets out to bring the Hedares to justice as Catwoman, a figure both mysterious and intimidating. Well, about as mysterious and intimidating as one can be whilst wearing a leather bra and trousers through which one’s bum-cheeks are plainly visible…

Now, the better-read amongst you will already have twigged that Berry is not playing the Catwoman, an iconic figure created by Bob Kane in 1940 as a sparring partner for Batman, but rather a catwoman. You will also have noticed that this movie steals Catwoman’s origin as re-imagined in Tim Burton’s 1992 movie Batman Returns: a movie noted mainly for its grandiose and overwrought incoherence, but also for its grotesque new spin on several classic characters. With this new interpretation at least twice removed from the source material, it would be nice to be able to treat the film as a completely new only-the-name’s-the-same version, but scribes John Brancato and Michael Ferris’s ham-fisted attempts to pay homage to the original character (there’s no reason why Berry’s character should start cracking a whip and stealing jewellery, other than because it’s what the classic Selina Kyle Catwoman does) and forge links between the two (Berry gets shown pictures of catwomen from earlier ages, one of which is a publicity shot of Michelle Pfeiffer from the Burton movie), make unfavourable comparisons inevitable.

I hate to say it, but it seems Halle Berry just can’t do superheroes. She’s extremely average as Storm in the X-Men franchise and she’s a crap Catwoman too. I’ve always thought Julie Newmar was the definitive screen Catwoman but even Pfeiffer did a better job than Berry does here. Supposedly an empowered, ambiguous, edgy figure, Berry comes across as about as dangerous and alluring as an Avon lady moonlighting as a low-rent dominatrix. The script’s idea of ambiguity is for Catwoman to steal a load of jewellery, and then have pangs of guilt and take it all back the next day.

Apart from this, Catwoman is a very much by-the-numbers superhero film in the modern style, somewhere between Steel and Daredevil in terms of quality. Pitof’s direction is strong on pretty pictures and bright colours, but rotten when it comes to characters and dialogue. Most of the plot gets squeezed into a very busy last half-hour. It isn’t even camp enough to be enjoyable as a piece of kitsch. Stone is quite good, as I mentioned up the page, and Benjy Bratt does a very reasonable job as Berry’s love-interest, but the rest of the performances are very forgettable (if you’re lucky).

And, yes, there’s that feminine empowerment thing… Quite apart from her (woeful) costume, there’s the very nature of the criminal scheme Catwoman gets mixed up in. You may recall that in their last screen outings, the X-Men saved the world from psionic genocide, and Spider-Man saved New York City from a nuclear apocalypse. Catwoman, in comparison, has to stop some dodgy make-up from going on sale. Not quite in the same league, is it, really, but it gives a good idea of what the film-makers think women are a) interested in and b) capable of dealing with.

This is clearly just meant to be a piece of fluffy Saturday evening fun, but even so, for a movie about Catwoman to be so vapid and sexist and patronising is just deeply offensive and depressing (and I’m not even that big a fan of the character – don’t get me started on the planned Jack Black Green Lantern movie!). It’s mildly enjoyable as a piece of junk, but by the standards of today’s superhero flicks, it really belongs in the kitty litter: Catwoman, the movie, is a dog.

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And so t’internet explodes as Christopher Nolan reveals who the bad guys will be in next year’s most anticipated film, The Dark Knight Rises (Chris, if you’re reading this – at least think about changing the name). Nolan is clearly a guy who relishes a challenge: not content with trying to better a film which was a deservedly massive popular and critical success, not content with trying to beat the final-chapter-of-a-trilogy jinx, he’s also decided to do so while attempting to rehabilitate characters who were fairly comprehensively slimed the last time they showed up on the big screen.
Ever since the opening weekend of The Dark Knight there has been avid (one might even say fervid) speculation as to who Batman’s opponents were going to be in the final film. The Riddler was a popular choice for a long time, although a fake leaked screenplay recently led some people to suspect Nolan was going for a bunch of rather more obscure characters – namely Professor Strange, Talia al’Ghul, Black Mask and Killer Croc. All of which turns out to be complete hoo-hah. The winners of the Who Gets To Be In This Movie contest are… (drum roll) Catwoman and Bane.

On one level it shouldn’t be any surprise that Catwoman (to be played by Anne Hathaway) has made it into the Nolan series, as she’s in the premier league of Batman characters – created by Bob Kane in 1940 for the first issue of Batman’s own book, she was in the TV show (my favourite was Julie Newmar, other opinions are equally valid), and Batman Returns, and supported 170+ issues of her own book. Basically, nearly everyone knows who she is, and she’s not completely weird – so she’s a good fit for one of Nolan’s street-level blockbusters. 

Try not to think about this sort of thing. Yes, I know it’s difficult.

On the other hand, two words: Halle Berry. When I first wrote on this topic my opinion was that Catwoman was ‘unusable’, simply because of the toxic legacy of the 2004 Catwoman movie, which your correspondent reviewed at the time using words like ‘ham-fisted’, ‘offensive’ and ‘depressing’ (and I cut it some slack compared to a lot of people). That said, the Berry movie will be comparatively ancient history by the time TDKR comes out and if Nolan thinks he can restore Catwoman’s credibility I’m happy to believe him.

Bane, on the other hand, is a relatively new and obscure character, first popping up in 1993 when he set about terrorising Gotham City, wearing down Batman both physically and psychologically, and then breaking his spine and putting him in a wheelchair (relax, readers, this is comics: he got better eventually). In the comics, Bane’s wont to wear a slightly garish costume that makes him look like a Mexican wrestler (you can bet that Tom Hardy won’t be so attired in the movie), but the character has a lot going for him – extremely physically formidable (albeit with a major steroid problem), tactically brilliant and deeply perceptive. If they get Bane right in the new movie the results could be very exciting.



At least it’s easier to stop yourself thinking about this sort of thing.

On the other hand, two words: Joel Schumacher. Although he wouldn’t thank me for reminding people of this, Bane’s already made it to the big screen, in the notorious piece of junk Batman and Robin (I still think it’s better than Batman Forever, but that’s just me). Bane’s demoted to the position of being Poison Ivy’s chief henchman in this film and is generally a grunting, shuffling travesty of his comics incarnation (though the costume is almost exactly the same). That said, being such a minor character, he escapes the worst of the indignities heaped upon all the leads and I expect most people won’t realise that Jeep Swanson in the Schumacher movie and Tom Hardy in TDKR are actually meant to be playing the same character. Unless they see something like this blog post. Damn. Move along, everyone, forget what you’ve just read…

Anyway, at least now people can stop their endless speculations as to who the bad guys will be, and start their endless speculations about costume choices and script elements. I’m rather more interested to see what Nolan does with Bane than Catwoman, to be honest, but either way the final movie should be compelling stuff – not that we didn’t know that already, of course.

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