Posted March 26, 2011 by editor in Retrospectives

Comic Book Movies 101: Catwoman

It feels a bit like clearing up other people’s garbage when you take on an assignment no one else wants. And for these blogs I occasionally have to fill the gaps where people are either unwilling to provide commentary, or have no reference to do so as they haven’t viewed the material. And it’s only a brave soul who’ll willingly take on a piece of work that’s universally derided.

Thankfully for the most part I have a team who are willing to go beyond what’s needed of them to do just that – so I should be no different. But even after such noble sentiments, I still feel like I’m clearing up other people’s garbage. Because Catwoman is pure garbage.

I’ve seen some terrible films in my time. Anaconda is up there. Sequels tend to be pretty awful. Batman & Robin, a comic book movie sequel, is really awful and is generally listed quite high up as one of the worst comic book movies ever made. That and Howard The Duck, right? But even these films have their own cult followings. Hell, we even have a writer here that loved the Mr Freeze one-liners from Batman & Robin (see her retrospective for proof). But I don’t think that critics and audiences alike are giving Catwoman (which is a spin off from a sequel, sort of) all the bad credit it is due.

Almost like my take on Elektra, which was also pretty poor, Catwoman takes a character to spin off from a film series. But Catwoman goes the whole hog and starts from scratch (no pun!) making this film a fresh start for the anti-hero to be.

The trouble started when Halle Berry appeared online in what is easily one of the worst excuses for a costume. The stills were meant to provoke naughty erections from the teenage crowd, but just defied logic for fans of the character. But why should they stop there? Let’s get Sharon Stone to ham it up too and that annoying fast talking French guy from The Matrix sequels.

The opening section runs like your average comedy for ladies as a socially shy but hard working young woman fumbles about in her life. Are we in the wrong genre already? Then it takes a quick turn as she unrealistically happens upon secrets her bosses would like to keep covered up. One very unexciting chase through the pipe rooms later and she plunges towards her destiny to turn into Catwoman. But not before we’re treated to some truly awful sets merged with awful CGI. The cats are about the same quality as the Cheshire Cat from Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland (which tells you how little they have advanced since this film).

Watching this film just made me cringe, cringe and cringe some more, the further I delved into it. Halle Berry (and most of her supporting cast) put in some pretty terrible performances in this tale of an advertising executive who’s put upon by her colleagues, bosses and neighbours; yeah ‘cos people this shy always work this high up in advertising (bollocks!).

When she does finally step up, it’s the youth-obsessed Sharon Stone that she has to take on. And she does – and I’m sure after the odd slap she says the word “bitch!” on occasion. Or am I thinking of her killer line in that naff Bond film she thought she was great in? (You know – when she kicked that knife into the chest of that other wooden actress, the one with no forehead). But can we lay the blame solely on the poor story and lack of acting talent? NO!

Producer Denise Di Novi (who was a producer on the likes of Heathers and Batman Returns) should bloody well know better. Why did she think this cheesy, badly put-together trash was what people wanted? Clearly what they actually wanted was what she had produced before.  Don’t break a method if it is working just fine! She must have written down words like ‘sexiness’ and ‘quirky comedy’ on a piece of paper from the results of her previous efforts and misunderstood their meaning when putting together this film.

French first time director Pitof (who had worked on effects for Jean Pierre Jeunet on Alien Resurrection) got the gig and wasted his budget on the acting talent. The effects are woeful, and the many shots of Catwoman stomping around rooftops with an attitude just look embarrassing.

Her costume is again a misunderstanding about what audiences wanted. Michele Pfeiffer’s rendition was clearly a benchmark on how to sex-up the appeal of the character – not that she was lacking that in the 60s even – but to assume that what we wanted was the world’s dumbest mask, and an outfit that looked like Barbie-gone-fetish is just all wrong. If you want to make a fetish out of Catwoman, you do what Batman Returns did.  You don’t show even more flesh, have a bra for a top and the most unconvincing claw marks all over your leather to sex the look up. It was a real amateur approach and one that took words on a page and yet again misunderstood what they meant taking things too far in the wrong direction.

Now onto the music. We all know that Halle Berry is of a certain ethnicity – but do we really have to get a bunch of black girl bands together to provide such an embarrassing girl-power, booty-shaking soundtrack? I do realise that Siouxsie and the Banshees “Face To Face” from Batman Returns was probably a little too gothic and obscure for some to get into. Despite it being a superior and quite alluring track, they didn’t quite have the mainstream appeal of Prince from the first film by Tim Burton. But again – mainstream doesn’t mean that your results will be good. Prince was a fairly off beat choice so he could provide music that fitted the bill. Batman Forever went ultra mainstream and had a whole host of artists perform music that appeared on the CD. This provided two hits for U2 and also Seal (re-releasing a track). I’d say on this occasion they got very lucky. The seal one was a particular cheek as it barely fit in with what was going on in the story – just because there’s a romance slotted into the plot doesn’t make it quite appropriate for such a grand tune to accompany it! In Catwoman this misunderstanding went to new heights as the greedy old company tried to get every buck covered and sell records. A misinformed fool might suggest this was a brave choice to have this soundtrack. No. It was just plain thoughtless.

So remember next time you’re watching trash like Barb Wire or The Phantom, or you get hold of a copy of that original Fantastic Four movie from 20 years ago that isn’t quite as bad as this film, that these threaten to become forgotten over time.  And as much as I’d like to forget about them, I think it’s important that we remember them for the atrocity so people don’t do it again. Sorry Catwoman, I’m not letting you off the hook.

Halle Berry has admitted to the faults of the film, and did so with grace as she even stepped up to receive an award for worst actress (joined with her other awful film that year, Gothika). Many saw it coming from the early ads. It’s a shame that this kitty turned out to actually be a dog.

Steven Hurst