The Cat’s Meow:
When a young woman becomes a witness to a corporate conspiracy and is subsequently killed, she is reincarnated by a Cat Spirit and given superpowers to bring her killers to justice.
Review and Analysis:
This movie is pretty disappointing. In the grand scheme of things, the premise (and the Main Theme) is usable: The protagonist, through no fault of their own, is witness to criminal activity. They are soon killed, but this only serves as the moment when an Intervention occurs. The protagonist in reincarnated, and is now equipped with new powers and abilities to aid them in their quest for Justice…and Retribution. However, by the end of it all, the protagonist comes to see the Duality of their new form: The Blessing, that they have these powers and skills to help others; And The Curse, that their quest for True Justice does not end with the vanquishing of those who wronged them before their Empowerment. It is truly the Never-Ending Battle, one which is often taken on by the Heroes…alone. The premise is used often in movies like Robocop.
Unfortunately, Catwoman fails to execute the totality of the premise all that well in this movie. This movie spends far too much time trying to show how attractive Halle Berry is to cohere itself into a workable film. It also makes many bad assumptions about Women, Empowerment, Sexuality, Femininity, and follows some usual tropes regarding female heroes in starring roles.
The Six Degrees of
Michael Keaton Kevin Bacon:
The first rumblings of the movie about Catwoman came shortly after the release of the movie Batman Returns. Unfortunately, due to the usual politics that infest Hollywood productions, the movie was never given the greenlight to go into production while the “iron” was hot. Every successive sale of the rights and the screenplay took the idea for the movie further from its original plans. It would not be until 2002, when the production for the movie finally gets the go-ahead. However, it would be a slightly different concept of the Catwoman character. There would be no mention of Gotham City or Batman. And she would have actual “Cat” powers (To be fair, Catwoman from the TV series Birds of Prey was also powered).
And this Catwoman would not be a rich socialite who committed crimes “Against the Rich” just for kicks. She would be closer to being working class. And her powers would be based on an Ancient Egyptian Legend (think about along the same lines as the “Spider-Totem” arc of the Spiderman series).
The Go-To “Milquetoast” Man:
One of the many things you come to realize with most motion pictures featuring female heroes is that unlike their Male Counterparts, Heroines (and Super ones at that) rarely have what I like to call a “Dapper Dan-in-Distress.” However, in extra rare cases, a Heroine can be given a male companion, but only if the image that the male companion gives off does not threaten Male Hegemony or Male Virility when it comes time to him to be “rescued” or “pushed aside so the Heroine of the Film can Win Against the Bad Guy.”
Thus, enter guys like Benjamin Bratt, Luke Wilson, and Jason Bateman. These three men have one thing in common: They all have been in a movie where they play opposite a “Super” Woman whose strength and powers would far outshine their male partners. However, in each of those cases, the men are never shown to be completely helpless in the face of ultimate danger; they might even assist in the defeat of the bad guy, even when the Super Woman is incapacitated.
Benjamin Bratt actually performs a similar role in the Sandra Bullock movie, “Miss Congeniality,” in which she plays an FBI agent who is able (and willing) to mix it up with the men – and often has to deal with complaints about use of excessive force.
When Patience realizes that something has changed about her, she used her laptop to begin looking into…Cats, hoping for some kind of insight into her new attitude and her newfound superpowers.
Actually Enjoying Your Powers:
One of the staples of Superhero stories with Male Protagonists with powers is the scene where we find said Hero coming to grips with their powers. So they decide to have a little fun with them. Superman does with famous train scene AND his flight in Metropolis after he performs some super-feats for the first time. Spiderman has this with Peter Parker when he figures out how to use his webshooters. Even in Eragon, when Eragon rides his dragon Safira while training under Brom.
In contrast, outside of this movie, Superhero stories with Female Protagonists do not feature a similar scene. It is always more exception than rule on this point. For Female protagonists, the Power is not so much Unwanted Power (and Responsibility) as much as it is “Unwelcomed”; they can and will take up the mantle of power, but will lament taking it on as they would rather be “ordinary.” It soon becomes a grudging acceptance of the role thrust upon them. It seems to play more like Hollywood-style Unwanted Pregnancy than Finding One’s Dream.
But, here in Catwoman, Patience quickly realizes her own oddities. She uses her powers on a number of different occasions, but it is after she uses them to silence a loud party that she begins to realize that her powers could be fun.
The only real exception to this is Supergirl (1984), with her first flight on Earth, now that she has all of the same powers as her cousin , Superman.
Many of the problems of this movie have little to do with the basic story or premise of the movie. Much like Star Trek V, the execution of this movie makes for the bulk of the movie’s flaws.
The first issue that jumps out is the camerawork. There is too much jump-cutting and changing of camera angles. Usually, such cuts are used to cover for a lack a particular skill required of the character that the actor or actress does not possess. In most cases, it is for a lack of martial arts skills or minimal athletic ability.
Second, the CGI sequences involving the use of some of Catwoman’s agility-based powers. Many of the sequences are pedestrian. And yet, they are on the same level of technical prowess as the CGI in both Spiderman and X-Men. Prime examples would be Spiderman 2, where Spiderman confronts Dr. Octopus at the Bank; and X-Men, with the fight between Wolverine and Sabertooth at the Statue of Liberty.
Third, related to the first, the overused and forced attentiveness to Halle Berry’s “Sexual Attractiveness and Availability.” This was something that kept leaping out like a bag of bricks smashing into a house made of glass. It seems as if nearly every scene was supposed to reinforce how attractive Patience was and that we were supposed to view that as part of “Empowering Strength” or some other equally demeaning claptrap.
Fourth, Patience’s character, once she was revived, was “Overly Cat.” In all seriousness, her reaction to Catnip, her encounter with a random Dog, the Cat Puns, and the “Jaguar” she steals when she attempts to clear her name…all over the top.
Fifth, the music. The best way to describe the music is this: For a time, you would know that the scene in question was going to feature a young woman doing something that we were supposed to pay attention to whenever this kind of music would start in the background. From the faux Hip-Hop to the female Alto vocals, the giveaways are obvious. Except that these never really work outside of small-screen television, and even there it is suspect.
In Defense of Halle:
I am going to start by making note of all of coverage about how “bad” this movie is. Very often, either the movie itself is mentioned OR Halle’s acting – or lack thereof – is disparaged. I do not often engage in broadsides defenses on topics like this, but I always find it interesting that it this movie that ends up in the discussion more than some of the others – considering that at making $82 million, Catwoman has outgrossed:
- Hanna – $71 Million
- Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – $47 Million
- My Super-Ex Girlfriend – $61 Million
- Elektra (2005) – $53 Million
- Supergirl – $32 Million, Adjusted for Inflation
- Red Sonja – $14 Million, Adjusted for Inflation
- Super – $2 Million on limited release
And made only $7 million less than Sucker Punch, which had the advantage of bigger marketing and wider word-of-mouth, as well as a “celebrated” director and screenwriter.
However, when reading analysis on bad comic book based media or superhero media, none of the other bad stories are brought out for examination on the scale by which Catwoman has. Uma Thurman, Jennifer Garner, nor Sarah Geller, Summer Glau or even Eliza Dushku seem to have had to endure as much criticism over their lack of acting talent as Halle does.
And, yes, I suspect that the main reason why Halle is disparaged among so-called comic book fans has more to do with this:
The fact that most people reminisce on Michelle Pfieffer’s take on Catwoman in Batman Returns. Or Lee Merriweather OR Julie Newmar on the 1960s TV Series Batman.
Few of Catwoman’s fans ever acknowledge Eartha Kitt, who, by the way, was the first Catwoman on the very same series.
Of course, Eartha Kitt, like Halle Berry, is unmistakably, a Woman of Color.
Nothing to see here?
Flirting with the Love Interest:
Tell me the difference between this scene:
And this one?
In the action/superhero genre, where a female character has powers on a scale similar to (or better than) their male counterpart AND said woman is to be tangled in a relationship with that male character, there is going to be a scene where the two of them will “flirt” with each other. This happens more when the Male Character is one who works for Justice or is considered the “Hero” (for a cause, usually the Law; not necessarily as the Hero of the Film) and the corresponding Female character is an Anti-Hero (not really a Villain; more a Vigilante than anything else). You find it in this film, Daredevil, Hanock, and Batman Returns.
Sometimes, that flirting will happen on the battlefield, but it usually happens where a test of physical prowess can reasonably occur. When they occur on playgrounds, the children present are used in an attempt to paint the scene as a test of skill – and by glossing over the obvious romantic banter through physical exertion.
The underlying setting? A makeup manufacturer. Being led by a corrupt and unrepentant Woman, who is willing to do everything in her power to make sure that a product that would kill most of the people taking it still shipped to market.
The main market of the new Beau-line (Miracle) Makeup Creme?
Who do you think?
Your typical, average, everyday, (White & Middle-class) Woman who is bombarded with images of “Perfect” Women; whose airbrushed and retouched photos have been lining the pockets of Cosmetics companies, Weight-loss scammers, and Drug companies for decades, preying on the insecurities of “un-perfect” women for nothing more than profit.
This movie unintentionally takes the idea to its logical extreme. Here you have a product that can make you look like a Perfect Woman: Unnaturally smooth skin, no signs of aging, no scars or blemishes, or any of the things that we as human beings are constantly being told are impediments to being happy in both our lives and our relationships. However, there is one side-effect: If you stop taking it, it will KILL you.
Read this essay by Ami. Her writing ties in to the premise of Beau-line. The so-called “imperfections” (which are different from injuries) are usually the things that distinguish our differences from one another, but the backlash against this so-called perfection is fragmented and marginalized in itself.
The Underlying Premise, and Patience :
Ophelia Powers, who acts as Patience’s mentor, explains “The Legend” that is Catwoman. When you listen to her speech to Patience, what you find is that the mantra she uses could be applied to any superhero story.
What the Reincarnation and Empowering was also supposed to signify is Patience breaking free of the bonds of her old life. It could also be seen as clumsy metaphor for her breaking free of the bonds of Male “Authority.” Keep in mind that her first demonstration of her new attitude (and powers) was her finally telling
The Merovingian George Hedare what she thought of his talent and his attitude.
What follows is Patience learning to “break out” of that shell (of Male Authority). But it does so under the same guise that other “Chosen Ones” follow – that they proved themselves to be worthy of the power. Where the premise fails is that Patience, like other Chosen Ones, decide to go about standing against “The Power” as a Lonely Quest. Thus, Chosen Ones often make great “Warriors” but poor “Leaders” because they do not allow for those who are as Marginalized (or even more so) to become Empowered themselves.
If the Empowerment is based what you can do OR what you can become, then it becomes imperative to use it as a springboard to see this gift in others – and allow that to flourish within them with as little actual direction as possible. It is even more important that you use your talent with discretion, sincerity, and humility, especially if you are supposedly in the service of “Justice.”
You do not see this with Patience (or just about EVERY Chosen One you can name) because the Empowerment is based on Who They Are Now AND What They Are Now. And, the Empowerment is based on being singularly worthy. In other words, the Chosen One is the only one who can handle the power and the responsibility, whether said Chosen One is ordained by Predetermination OR Accident of Proximity. While this works as an attempt to reinforcement importance of the Main Character (sometimes), it shows why Chosen One theology fails in the end; No one who is not considered to be worthy of the Chosen One’s presence is allowed to advance beyond their current station in life.
For Catwoman, it is a double failure because of Ophelia’s speech to Patience. If these women who become Empowered by the spirit of Mau break free of “Man’s World,” why are other Women not allowed to learn how to break free in their own ways with some help?
That, in the end, is why most “Empowerments” are lip-service.
A Final Note on Ophelia:
When she is formally introduced, we find out that she is supposed to be a foremost and premiere authority on the legends of Cats in history, including ancient Egypt, but was denied tenure, to which she blamed (White) Male Academia. When combined with her discussions with Patience, this was supposed to be the movie’s nod to Feminism.
And, like all Hollywood nods to causes, it should be taken with a grain of salt.
A Mirror Into the Souls of…
Good and Evil Loneliness:
This movie attempts to make a mirror out of Laurel Hedare and Patience Phillips. Where Patience is shown trying to break out her shell, Laurel is shown not only hiding in one, but actively trying to stay within it. It is obvious that she is supposed to be a Femme Fatale; her power is not only in her attractiveness, but also in her intelligence and her ruthlessness.
But, for Laurel, her “personal” enemy is her fading Beauty. She can still be considered very attractive, but this is buffered against her husband
The Merovingian George, who is often seen in the company of younger (and “more attractive”) women, with whom Laurel implies that he may be having flings with. It is through this backdrop that she has been taking Beau-line herself; the “miracle” cream allows her to keep the illusion of beauty going. Unfortunately, it is not enough to “Unstray” her husband.
The biggest problem with Laurel’s character, however, is that her own motivation in wanting to have a massively lethal product like Beau-line released isn’t well explained. Understandably, as the Executive VP of Hedare, Inc., Laurel herself would have a vested interest in the profit margin for such a product. Usually, however, releasing a product like this has to have some kind of ulterior motive. Would Laurel’s anger over her husband’s extramarital activities have something to do with it? It would seem a little over-the-top if the answer is yes, because of the sheer number of women that would be otherwise hurt or killed by Beau-line that are far removed from Laurel’s circle of influence.
The screenwriting approach to Laurel’s character skims the surface of her being a thematic moral opposite of Patience’s own, but fails to draw enough of an opposing contrast to be an effective antagonist. Laurel’s fight against aspects of Male Gaze and Male Approval marks a passing resemblance to Patience’s own. The aspects that Laurel rejects, however, are different from ones the Patience rejects and vice-versa. However, both are victims from their acceptance of the Gaze and Approval in their own ways.
And Blond Ambition Strikes…Again:
This movie qualifies based on the conditions set within the post. Laurel, because of the continuous and repeated use of Beau-line, gained a limited invulnerability, which you see early on when she crushes a drink glass and gets nary a scratch. During her fight with Catwoman, Laurel is attacked repeatedly by punches and (mostly) kicks, impacting against the ground and even glass. All without messing up even a single hair.
Note that Laurel is the only one who lasts more than a few seconds in direct combat against Patience in the movie.
The Submarine of the Male Gaze:
Hollywood storytelling has a way of projecting all of the evils portrayed in the film to a single character. This is usually a requirement of the story so that the “audience” can stand with the hero as they vanquish the antagonist/villain. Unfortunately, in doing so, the examination of the evils that occur will usually disappear, especially if the villain is (or can be) marginalized in some way.
For example, in Lean on Me, because the antagonist of the film was revealed to be Mrs. Barrett, any examination of the racism and bigotry as conducted by the Fire Chief, the Police Chief, and the Mayor – as well as any examination into how the outside political and economic racism played a factor into Eastside High’s poor condition and environment – is washed away, because Mrs. Barrett, as a Black Woman, acts a shield to that examination.
In this case, Catwoman (the movie) does not examine how the definition of what is considered beautiful (especially in the eyes of Men) would lead to the creation and distribution of a “miracle” product like Beau-line. The reason is because it foists all of the evil behind Beau-line’s side effects to Laurel. Even more, the movie actually makes a point of having Laurel be the one who acts as the overarching mastermind; When George finds out about Beau-line’s side effects, he attempts to have the manufacture of the cream halted. Laurel kills him in cold blood and frames it on Catwoman. Consequently, the structure behind the company is allowed to skate away untouched.
Standing Against the Society:
A staple of many super-vigilante movies is the tried-and-true “Falsely Accused” twist, in which the Hero, in attempting to bring the Villain to justice, falls into a trap of the Villain’s making. In this case, Laurel Hedare shoots her husband George and frames it on Catwoman. Because Catwoman had the murder weapon at the time the NYPD barges in, Catwoman is charged with his murder.
When this is added to the jeweled nail that the police found at the scene of another murder, it became apparent that Catwoman is not regarded as a Friendly Neighborhood Vigilante.
And, in the End:
Catwoman would have been better served if Laurel Hedare had been arrested for her crimes OR given the “Hounded by the Press” ending as the scandal behind Beau-line had been revealed, thanks to Patience’s acquisition of “secret” documents and a technician being “escorted” to the police station by Detective Lone.
However, Catwoman does have a heroine who enjoys her powers, actually reads up on her history, isn’t shown as being incompetent with said powers, AND doesn’t look to settle down with her Male partner – and with a letter you would usually find being written by a typical male protagonist in the same situation.
Catwoman is not a great movie. It’s not even a good movie. The story is well-worn and not well told. The acting is nothing to write home about. The effects are poorly rendered and executed. The music soundtrack is beyond bland. The settings need work. The emphasis on Halle being “sexy” was far over-the-top. It gets dizzy trying to spin around the Bechdel Test. The journey contains too many cliches. The pandering to the Male Gaze sinks the film.
However, the amount of criticism surrounding this film stands in disproportion to its standing in the genre. Also, the amount of criticism of the film’s main actress, who just happens to be a woman of color headlining a movie about an established comic book character – and for the first time ever – is disproportionate to the issues that the film itself provides outside of the heroic character. Even when said actress herself agrees that the movie was bad (if for more generic reasons).
Catwoman is an instructive film. If you take a single step back from the noise being generated, you find that that most of the film’s problems are stemmed from incomplete execution of both sane and insane ideals. Because it is wrapped in Male Gaze and Acceptance, the incompleteness of it all sinks the film and makes it obvious. As with most films of the genre, discussion can go in any direction and go on virtually forever.
As popcorn fare, Catwoman is probably not the best choice. It isn’t the worst choice, either. But always remember that the sexuality on display in the movie (much like the title character herself) is submitted mainly for Male Approval. And the Male Gaze apparent in the movie burns hotter than the Eye of Sauron.
Take this movie for a spin if you feel like teaching. I would avoid using this review as a lesson plan, however.