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Paracinema Roundtable: Catwoman
LabSplice: So first of all – thinking about Anne Hathway’s Catwoman, what do you think was the intended point of her character? Why Catwoman instead of, say, another one of Batman’s
Published on August 1, 2012 | Filed under Roundtable Discussion

LabSplice: So first of all – thinking about Anne Hathway’s Catwoman, what do you think was the intended point of her character? Why Catwoman instead of, say, another one of Batman’s on-again, off-again allies?

Christine: Hmmm… I’m sure there’s documentation. I mean, I’m sure Christopher Nolan has stated somewhere why Catwoman was next on deck. But I’ll sidestep the googling and venture a guess or two.

Perhaps, and this is a BIG perhaps, there was a deliberate choice to employ and develop a “strong female character.” You and I know he has been criticized (and I believe rightly so) for designing female characters perfect for dying. Could this have been a golden opportunity to change that track record?

A simpler explanation could be that she’s a recognizable character that could easily be translated into his Bat-universe. I don’t know how well the Penguin would have worked…

What do you think? Am I totally off base? In your eyes, was she a successful character?

LabSplice: I’m sure that there is some interview where Nolan explains Catwoman to fans of the franchise, but I prefer to let the work speak for itself. That’s why I struggle with some of the fans of movies like Prometheus, who fold the director’s interviews and what-not into the discussion. It was either in the movie, or it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, then I can appreciate the writer/director’s intent, but you left it on the cutting room floor, so it doesn’t really count. Maybe this makes me old fashioned in an era of Special Features and Director’s Cut DVDs, but there you have it.

Anyways, that was off-topic. It seems to me that Catwoman was a misstep built upon a misstep. Nolan decided that Bruce Wayne needed to have a love interest, and that the love interest needed to die. So we got Assistant District Attorney Rachel Whatever, and she is blown up and Bruce Wayne loses his desire to be Batman for eight years. A clever person might say that it took death to create Batman (Wayne’s parents) and death to destroy him (Rachel’s death), but another clever person might say that the Batman mythos basically just comes down to whatever girl Wayne happens to be crushing on at the moment. The problems that I had with Catwoman were less with Hathaway’s portrayal – which I found to be pretty solid, even though she was a little young for the character – and more with Catwoman’s role as plot device. I almost wish they had avoided a love story between the two of them altogether and just let her be a kind of vigilante parallel to Wayne. Not every strong woman in an action movie needs to be a love interest for the male lead.

Christine: And I completely agree. If she was a standalone “vigilante” she would have been much more interesting. That being said, she was much more fun, interesting, and successful than I expected. Hathaway was outstanding and really sold it. She was everything that Catwoman should be: an independent gray hat. And then all of a sudden she wasn’t.

Her motives (which = plot device) were clear. She wanted to erase her past. But why? For me, that why is very important. It tells so much about the character and yet is totally ignored. Now this is something else that was apparently divulged in an interview, but at some point Catwoman was supposed to be a stripper with a history of abuse? Who knows how much of that is truth and how much is speculation or exaggeration, but could this be an explanation for why she has no past to erase? Was this angle abandoned? Had that been worked in, it would have been awfully offensive and just another example of Nolan’s “interesting” choices for his females.

I’ve already seen this incarnation of Catwoman being called a feminist superhero. I disagree. Any amount of strength and independence she had was undermined.

Either way, the romance between Wayne and Kyle felt undeserved and appeared out of nowhere. It was very happily ever after.

LabSplice: I can’t remember who, but someone wrote on Twitter that he hoped Nolan hadn’t found his “perfect ending” and worked backwards from there. That’s what it felt like – they had the ending in mind, the meet-cute at the restaurant, and everything in the movie was Nolan’s attempt to get from the end of The Dark Knight to happily ever after.

I 100% agree that exploring a little bit of Catwoman’s past would have made her a better character. Frank Miller wrote Catwoman as a reformed prostitute in his Batman reboot of sorts, Batman: Year One. There were bits and pieces of that back story present in The Dark Knight Rises – her blonde sidekick, for example – but none of it was woven together. The only thing that I can definitively say about Nolan’s Catwoman is that she was a thief. A thief with enough of a reputation that Bane would hire her to steal Wayne’s fingerprints. And yet so bad that she regularly made the papers, although the world’s greatest detective had no clue who she was until they had spent some time flirting in his parents’ bedroom. It’s all really confusing. You nailed it on the head by saying that she was just one giant plot device. It’s almost like the movie was written and she became the catch-all for the plot holes that Nolan couldn’t resolve. In Nolan’s world, the only reason that women exist is to make men do things, I suppose.

Call me a hipster if you must, but I kind of miss the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman. Not that I entirely enjoyed Burton’s take on Batman – I love me some Michael Keaton, but Burton’s schtick was already starting to become old hat by the time he directed Batman Returns. However, Pfeiffer was the real deal, a morally ambiguous bad-ass who was working her own angles the entire movie. There wasn’t a moment where Pfeiffer “bought into” Batman’s world view. Her very last action in the film is to kill the man who killed her, for example. But she was fun, and unique, and an equal to Keaton’s Batman in every sense. I get the impression that it all comes down to the director’s vision. Burton wanted his movies to be about the “freaks,” characters like the Penguin and Catwoman who existed outside of normal society. And Nolan wanted his movie to be about how much Bruce Wayne wasn’t going to be Batman anymore. Go ahead and guess which one I liked more.

I know you were really into the character of Black Widow in The Avengers – what separates ScarJo’s Widow from Hathaway’s Catwoman for you?

Christine: The whole time I was watching TDKR I was analyzing Kyle. I did get roped into the movie and I enjoyed it. But I was acutely aware of everything the character was doing and saying; every flash of potential greatness and all the subsequent letdowns. When I watched The Avengers, Black Widow was barely on my radar. She was so “meh” in Iron Man 2 that I hadn’t even entertained the thought that she’d be a scene stealer in The Avengers. I don’t want to go too off topic, but I was never sure how much control Whedon would end up having. There was a lot riding on The Avengers‘ success. Sure, under any other circumstance there would have been no question that the female character(s) would be given equal treatment, but I felt it was uncertain here. Anyway, point being that I didn’t obsessively deconstruct Black Widow while watching the film. It just kind of hit me: she’s awesome.

She is an equal to her male counterparts. Her importance in the film isn’t dictated by a love interest. What develops between her and Hawkeye is substantial but never overtly sexual. There is no grand curtain-closing kiss. It’s not about that here. She is flawed and gray and yet still a strong and loyal fighter. That’s where her motivations lie; not in love, but in loyalty. That’s special and not something you see everyday.

Also, and this is JUST my opinion, I often felt like the camera was leering at Hathaway. She and Johansson had similar costumes, but I really feel like Hathaway was sexualized much more. Perhaps that can be chalked up to a simple difference in characters.

I will say that Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, for me, is infinitely more interesting, complex, and powerful. As you said, as much as she and Wayne may have overlapped, her motivation was all her own. I simply felt as though Nolan’s Catwoman was too tied to Batman. She was never her own entity.

* * * *

If you’d like to read some of what we spent the week reading, here are some links:

This post from the Ms. Magazine blog confused the heck out of me. I agree with so much of it, especially this in regards to Pfeiffer’s Catwoman: Her “takedown of the fairytale notion is in keeping with what this post argues is Catwoman’s ‘anti-patriarchal revenge narrative.'” But then they say she was too crazy and Hathaway is more on the mark. Eh.

This is one the places I’d seen speculation about Kyle being portrayed as an abused stripper. It was posted almost a year ago, and having seen the film, we know that’s not how it went down.

Here’s a piece saying “Anne did super good!” And I totally think she did. But a lot of credit is going to Nolan here for making her the “Han Solo” of the film, saying “she gets to inhabit the lovable-rogue spot usually reserved for wisecracking men.”
Not to get too quote happy, but this bit really got me thinking : “she’s a protagonist in her own right, with problems and motivations unrelated to the hero or to the actions of men in her life; she’s the hero of her own story, which overlaps with Batman’s but doesn’t rely on it.” That’s where I have to agree to disagree.

Finally, this may be from 2010, but it’s the most comprehensive look at Nolan’s tendency to “fridge.”

I love that so many people are writing about the character and not just regurgitating the plot.

Paracinema's New York correspondent. Follow me on Twitter at @labsplice, or reach me by email at labsplice (at) paracinema.net.

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  • What is you guys’ take on Emma Stone’s “Gwen Stacy” in the new Spiderman? She maybe didn’t have a huge part, but for once they put in a female that was neither a “damsel in distress” nor a “kick-ass girlz rule” character.

    It was refreshing.

    • LabSplice

      Steve,

      I thought she was a very good character, though a bit underwritten. The romance between the two of them should have been left in the oven a little bit more, I think. But she was smart, capable, and the relationship between her and Denis Leary as her dad was nice. I’ll be sad when they blatantly obviously kill her in the second movie to raise the stakes and introduce Mary Jane Watson.

      • Yup, she definitely has the sword of damocles over her head if you go by the many comic book interpretations!

    • Christine

      That’s an awesome question. I have still yet to see it, but I’m looking forward to Stone’s performance!

  • Matt-suzaka

    I don’t know, Burton’s Catwoman was good for the time, but she is a cartoon character that really played off the whole cat thing to offensively ridiculous levels (though I do enjoy it for what it is, but it’s awful). Hathaway’s Catwoman is the first screen Catwoman that I can actually take seriously.

    I liked that her past wasn’t explained away and would much rather have a little mystery to her than some unnecessary expositional scene that would only slow down an already very long film. I figured that she wanted to erase her past because she might want to live a normal life but cannot because her time spent as a criminal has left her with no other options. It’s not something that is explained in the film, but it doesn’t need to be as far as I’m concerned. It’s a situation where I would prefer to fill in the blanks myself.

    As for their relationship, Catwoman has pretty much always been a love interest for Bruce Wayne. In fact, I would be surprised if she wasn’t because it’s what I expect of the character. In many ways, both characters complete each other. I don’t think it makes Kyle a weaker female character who needs to rely on a man because he relies on her as well. And in the end, they rely on each other.

    • LabSplice

      True, but I’m always wary of what information I’m providing to the movie instead of the other way around. If I’m arguing about Batman, for example, and my side of the argument is, “Yes, but in the comics…”, then I feel like I’m not on solid ground. Knowledge of source material should enhance your enjoyment of a movie, not be critical to it.

      But to go along that line a little more, I don’t really know the “rules” for Catwoman in Nolan’s hyper-realistic Bat-verse. Just because I know that Selina Kyle may have been a prostitute or a socialite in the comics doesn’t mean that she is in Nolan’s world, so I need HIM to develop her a little bit for me. What are NOLAN’s thoughts on her shady past or NOLAN’s thoughts on why she’s into Bruce Wayne/Batman?

      Anyways, just some of my additional thoughts! I hope Christine has some to share as well.

      • Christine

        I agree with Matt quite a bit. Or I want to. Because I wouldn’t allow myself to explain Bane stuff with “well, in the animates series,” and it’s pretty much the same thing.
        Because there was an action figure named “Pogo Stick Joker.”

        Also, and this may be me asking for a lot, but if Nolan is going to take liberties with characters, I want him to do it.

        I like your take though, Matt. About how they rely on each other. I just don’t think that was clearly expressed in the film’s universe.

        • LabSplice

          WHICH MATT ARE YOU ADDRESSING?!

          • Christine

            I had pondered that before posting. But remember, only one “Matt” is in this convo…
            I also wrote “animates series.” Oh brother!

  • Matt-suzaka

    PS

    I forgot to mention that this was a great read, even though I don’t necessarily agree!

  • LabSplice

    Christine, that “fridge” link from 2010 is amazing. Thank you for sharing.

  • Important question, as far as the woman problem in superhero movies goes (I believe that there is a big one, with scattered exceptions.) I definitely had my reservations going in, but I thought Anne Hathaway did as good a job as she possibly could. For me, I guess, it still wasn’t enough. You guys brought up Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns and even Scarlett Johansson in Avengers, and to look at those two in comparison, it really points out the problem. Those two blow Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman off the screen. In Dark Knight Rises, as so many other roles (again, with exceptions), Anne Hathaway feels like the most talented, hardest-working kid in your college drama class, rather than a full-on charisma-bomb of a movie star. Which is kind of what you need, or want, in a movie that’s about people in animal costumes. She’s not as interesting as Bale or Hardy. She’s not even as interesting as Morgan Freeman. And that’s not all her fault.

    Spoilers ahead: What was Catwoman even doing in that movie? There are some major elements that needed to be explained for the character’s presence to be justified. For one thing, in this more realistic take on Gotham, and especially considering it’s a Gotham where eight years have passed without Batman, why is she wearing a mask? If she’s a jewel thief (an occupation, by the way, that doesn’t exist outside of soap operas), then why isn’t her mask less super-hero-y and more functional? It’s a nit-pick but I think it’s a valid key into the problems with the character.

    Then there’s her little blond sidekick, which, like (I think) too much of The Dark Knight Rises, comes straight out of Frank Miller. At first it seems like a mentor-mentee relationship, but in that scene where the girl puts her arms around Catwoman, I thought they were implying a lesbian relationship. Which would have been interesting! That’s an area that I never thought these movies would touch, and I appreciated the possibility of such a huge movie including something so progressive. But of course, they had to turn around and make her the love interest after all, since they killed off the other one. That struck me as some Chasing Amy shit — either that, or just a more run-of-the-mill disappointment. When will these movies take a shot at resisting the temptation to make every single female character into a love interest for the hero? Is this comic books or is it James Bond? There’s a difference.

    I think Christopher Nolan is remarkably talented and I’m not actually suggesting that he has a problem creating compelling female characters. I am suggesting that these overlong, over-stuffed movies are taking on way too much story at once, and the female characters are routinely the ones who get shunted to the sidelines. (I also feel like he’s three-for-three with casting underwhelming lead actresses in these movies, but that may only be me.) What would I have preferred? More screen time for Marion Cotillard, who nimbly portrayed a convincing shift from angel to demon despite having been fast-forwarded into the movie’s villain, a la Two-Face in The Dark Knight. I think her performance and her character would have had far more emotional impact had Anne Hathaway not been standing by as a back-up love interest. Ultimately, I don’t see how The Dark Knight Rises NEEDED Catwoman. It had way too many characters already.

    Hope this isn’t overlong or overly negative. I enjoyed several parts of The Dark Knight Rises (most of them towards the end), as I’m a sucker for operatic filmmaking, but obviously I was more disappointed by it than not. I’m still looking forward to whatever Christopher Nolan does next, but I’m in the minority who’s relieved it (probably) won’t be a Batman movie, and pretty much the last thing I want to see him do is James Bond.

  • Deadlydollshouse

    Going into The Dark Knight Rises, I had one rule: Nolan could not give me another ‘strong’ female character who sleeps with her boss. I recently rewatched the first two Batmans and could not BELIEVE Rachel Dawes sleeps with her boss not once, but twice (there’s a throwaway line in Begins about how ‘it’s over’ between her and her DA; and obviously, Harvey Dent and her have a pretty unprofessional relationship). Hence, as soon as Miranda Tate gets control of Wayne Enterprises to save the world, only to then BANG BRUCE WAYNE, I was FURIOUS! Thankfully, the film fixes that problem with its twist ending. In regards to Catwoman, I liked her, liked Hathaway, liked the moral ambiguity and kind of ‘lesser villainess’ aspect of the character. Having only watched it once, I have no idea how she ACTUALLY fits into the whole picture though, as you guys point out!

  • Annisa Zainal

    I’m in the in the middle of trying to vocalise my opinions on why Catwoman wasn’t all that great, and found your post. Good stuff! Thank you so much for the ammo hahaha…

  • I was hoping you would toss out some conspiracy theories as to why the film refused to show Catwoman’s/Hathaway’s body in action.