Just as superhero films began to be taken seriously with Spider-Man 2 (2004), Batman Begins (2005) and Superman Returns (2006), two films would push the superhero genre back a couple steps. The first one I’ll talk about is 2004’s Catwoman, directed by a French director named Pitof. That’s right. A director with one name.
The project had been in production since 1992. After the release of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992), Burton wished to direct a Catwoman spinoff with Michelle Pfeiffer planning to reprise her iconic role. He got the writers and producers from Batman Returns to return for the project, and began developing the story. Two years later however, Burton decided to shelve the project entirely, citing difficulties committing to the film and expressing a desire to move onto different projects. While Pfeiffer expressed her interest to reprise her role in 1995, she did say that being a mother would prevent her from making too many commitments. Eventually, the project fell through and Pfeiffer moved on with other projects. The movie undergone transition among several directors and actresses to play the titular hero, including Ashely Judd and Nicole Kidman. When Warner Brothers decided not to green light a Batman vs. Superman movie, Catwoman was finally green lit with Pitof serving as the director and Halle Berry as Catwoman.
Catwoman (2004) centers around a woman named Patience Phillips who is a clumsy and socially awkward person working as a graphic designer at a makeup company. One night, she delivers a poster for her boss when she stumbles upon his “evil plan”—that the makeup they were producing will corrode the skin of its users. She gets caught in the act of eavesdropping and is subsequently killed by getting flushed out of the building via sewage pipes. She dies, but is revived by a bunch of cats that surround her as the leader cat burps into her face, giving her new life and cat-like powers. Using her new abilities, Patience creates a costume and superhero persona as Catwoman to hunt down those who murdered her and take down the evil makeup company.
The film deviates from the original source material quite a bit. Now as a casual reader of comics, I usually don’t care about changes made to a character from the comics, so long as it makes sense in the narrative of the film. Catwoman, however, doesn’t even star the title character from the comics—her name isn’t even Selina Kyle, rather it’s Patience Phillips. Another red flag is that the city she lives in isn’t even Gotham City, rather the city doesn’t even have a name. The director apparently didn’t read any of the comics at all, rather he wanted Catwoman to be portrayed in a completely new light, one that was not “burdened” by years of comic book continuity. However, as a comic book character and movie, you should try to stay as faithful as possible, at least from a storytelling perspective. More importantly, the character of Patience Phillips is not compelling in the slightest. While Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was a bit rough around the edges, she’s made into a more interesting character by the charisma of Pfeiffer and the direction of Tim Burton. Despite Halle Berry being a very talented actress, she doesn’t have the screen charisma as Pfeiffer as a superhero.
The fight choreography was rather atrocious. In interviews, Halle Berry spoke about training extensively in Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art centered on dance, to prepare for the fight scenes and do most of her own stunts. However the film’s cinematography use too many jump cuts and zooms whenever Patience is using her cat-like senses. In addition, the films makes prominent use of a CGI stunt double of Berry whenever she’s climbing or running on walls or rooftops, respectively. In addition, the cat suit was absolutely hideous. The suit consisted of a hard plastic mask, a leather bra, ripped leather pants, and extremely high-heeled boots. With how impractical the suit looks, I always wondered how Catwoman could fight wearing those extremely high heels. While some people would say that Catwoman from the comics wore a leather spandex suit, the suit at least covers up her entire body, allowing her to hide in the shadows. If anything, this suit makes her stick out like a sore thumb.
This was a time when superhero movies began to find some footing with audiences, however, there was still much work that needed to be done for comic book movies to become more mainstream. In a world where female superheroes would be in rather short stock, this movie did nothing to push boundaries, rather, it showed audiences just how much comic book movies can suck and “justify” that comic book movies led by a female lead can never be good nor make money for almost two decades. For a movie about Catwoman, it doesn’t understand cats nor women.