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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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