Movie Review: Catwoman (2004)
You should never make a superhero out of a domesticated animal. Seriously. There is no Dog Man, no Gerbilboy, no “The Goldfish.” And if maybe you can get away with it, like maybe you can get away with it with Catwoman, you should never have the hero adopt the mannerisms of the domesticated animal.
In “Catwoman,” once Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) dies and is reborn because an Egyptian Mau kitty named Midnight sits on her chest and breathes into her face, we witness her do the following:
- go crazy for catnip
- order cream at a bar and slurp it
- stare at fish in a fish tank with goggle eyes
- gobble sushi/tuna
- run from rain
I’m surprised one of the villains didn’t get out a piece of string.
Quiet or papa spank
Who’s the villain in “Catwoman”? Spider-Man fights the Green Goblin, who wants power; Batman fights the Joker, who wants chaos. Catwoman fights Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone), former face of Hedare Beauty Products, who wants to stay younger-looking longer. OK.
Hedare is upset when she’s shunted aside for a younger model by her bitchy CEO husband George (Lambert Wilson). She’s a woman scorned. She’s also a tough executive. Her company is about to introduce a new product, Beau Line, pronounced bee-yew lean, which not only hides the effects of aging but actually removes them. Of course, women who use the cream complain of headaches and nausea, and its chief scientist warns that if someone stops using the product, their face kinda sorta disintegrates. So there are side-effects. For that bit of info, the scientist is killed—his death blamed on Catwoman—and Laurel pushes the product forward. Because they have millions invested in it? Won’t this side-effect be obvious eventually? Isn’t the FDA paying any attention?
Wait, there’s more. Because this is some magical beauty product.
Sure, if you stop using Beau Line your face disintegrates, but if you keep using it your skin turns into living marble. You become virtually invulnerable. And that’s what happens to Laurel, who I guess has been using it longer than anyone. And it finally gives the movie its requisite supervillain. A bit late, sure, about five minutes before the end, but it allows the usual WWE tide-turning in the final battle: 1) hero winning; 2) hero on ropes (clinging to top floor of skyscraper); 3) villain vanquished (falling from skyscraper).
Worse is why Laurel falls. She sees her reflection in the skyscraper’s glass, realizes her face is disintegrating, and can’t live in a world where she's not beautiful. It’s like the Green Goblin losing to Spider-Man because of shrinkage.
“I was everything they wanted me to be,” Laurel tells Catwoman. “I was never more beautiful, never more powerful. And then I turned 40 and they turned me away.” The movie is a metaphor for Sharon Stone’s entire shitty career. It's a metaphor for the shittiness of Hollywood.
It’s also a primer for everything you shouldn’t do in a female superhero movie. Quickly: Don’t have your main character work at a cosmetic company. C’mon. The supervillain should be a man, I feel, but if it is a woman don’t pit youth against age; just leaves a bad taste. (Cf., “Supergirl”) And does any male character become hyper-sexualized when they develop powers? Does their sexuality become part of their power? Feels like the masturbatory dreams of boys who draw women well but interact with the real thing poorly.
There’s a way they might’ve justified Catwoman’s overt sexuality and slinking around. It’s in a line that Midnight’s owner, the crazy cat lady Ophelia (Frances Conroy), tells Patience as she’s explaining the history of her ancient Egyptian powers. “Catwomen are not contained by the rules of society,” she says. “You follow your own desires. This is both a blessing and a curse. ... But you will experience a freedom other women will never know.”
Many women I know are afraid to go out alone at night. They feel circumscribed by the constant, potential violence of men. This should’ve been Patience. Instead of a mousy, overly polite graphic designer who talks into her chest and whom nobody realizes is as beautiful as Halle Berry, she should’ve been someone who had experienced violence, possibly rape, or at least the threat of it. She was afraid to go out at night. Then she developed powers and owned the night. Hell, this could’ve been her raison d’etre. Spider-Man has the great power/responsibility line, Batman has revenge for the death of his parents, Catwoman could've had this.
Instead, she licks Benjamin Bratt’s face, licks her lips after drinking cream, dances seductively at a club with a whip, struts on building parapets like she’s a model on a catwalk. She says meow.
To Wong Foo, thanks for everything
There’s such idiocy here: the sassy friend who becomes sick then gets the doctor of her dreams; the sets (industrial fan, etc.) like out of some shitty 1984 MTV video; the fact that Patience first displays her powers in a one-on-one basketball game.
My favorite idiotic bit may be the rationale for why Patience becomes Catwoman in the first place. Seems Midnight the cat foresaw Patience’s fate, so she decided to see if she was worthy. How? By hanging out on Patience’s window ledge, three stories up, then climbing onto a higher ledge when Patience peeked out. And that’s how Patience proved her worth: by climbing out onto a ledge to save a cat that didn’t need saving. It's like jumping into the air to save a bird.
It didn’t have to be this way. “X-Men” had been released four years earlier, “Spider-Man” two years earlier. People knew how to do it. But Warner Bros. chose a one-named Frenchman, Pitof, who had directed exactly one feature, to helm it; they picked several journeyman screenwriters, John Brancato and Michael Ferris (“The Net”), to pen it; and we got this hot mess.
Hey, Halle Berry, you just became the first African-American actress to win an Oscar for acting in a lead role. What are you going to do now?
I’m gonna play Catwoman!