It’s perhaps a bit ironic, and more than a little disheartening, that within the space of a few weeks two comic book inspired movies can be released that are so diametrically opposite each other. One, Spider-Man 2, displayed remarkable respect for the source material and delivered a rousing film that rises above the standard summer action fare. The other, Catwoman, is divorced from its comic book roots as to be unrecognizable save for its title.
Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) is a slightly scattered brained graphic designer in the advertising department of a large cosmetics company lorded over by George (Lambert Wilson) and Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone). The company is on the verge of rolling a new beauty cream product Beau-line (a play on botox?) and Patience is in charge of its advertising campaign. When delivering some last minute changes to the campaign she overhears discussion that the new facial cream is addictive and can cause skin to look like the crusty top of a crème Brule. Discovered, Patience tries to escape but is pursued by henchmen until she is flushed out of a industrial waste drainage pipe and presumed dead. She washes up on a small island and is brought back to life by Midnight, a cat. The next day, Patience awakes at home to discover that she has all the reflexes and agility of a cat. Patience traces Midnight’s owner to a slightly batty ex-college professor (Frances Conroy), who tells her that she is just one in a long line of catwomen to be so mystically endowed. (Keep your eyes peeled for a brief glimpse of a photo of former Catwoman Michelle Pfeiffer from Batman Returns (1992) for the film’s only reference to its roots in the Batman comics.) After her best friend and office mate Sally (Alex Borstein) shows withdrawal symptoms from beau-line, Patience decides that her alter ego needs to stop the production of the cosmetic. However, she has to avoid the suspicions of her new boyfriend (Benjamin Bratt), a cop assigned to capture Catwoman.
Catwoman is not a very interesting film whether you look at it as an action movie or as a metaphor for female empowerment. The plot points are strictly by the book and the script contains not a single surprise or twist that can’t be spotted from a distance. We never learn what Patience thinks about her new powers, as the script doesn’t seem to be bothered to tell us. She seems to take things at a fait accompli level. The film’s ideas towards female empowerment are equally simplistic and don’t even make much sense on a surface level. I personally have problems with accepting the idea that female empowerment means dressing up in tight, ripped up leather pants and matching bikini top and snapping a bull whip at people. It strikes me as more objectifying and just a tad fetishistic. The concept behind how Patience gets her powers is interesting, but is light-years away from her four-color progenitor, though it does allow for the franchise to be able to continue should Berry decide to pass on future installments. Comic fans however, are probably going to be annoyed, because as presented here, the character is far removed from her thrill-seeking, expert cat-burglar persona as possible. Berry is inconsistent in the role. Her work as Patience is much more realized than when she’s Catwoman, who seems to be nothing more than a sexy strut, a pout of the lip and an occasional rolling of the letter R that recalls Eartha Kitt in the old 1960s TV version of Batman.
Visually the movie is a mixed bag. Its opening scene is blatantly cribbed from Sunset Boulevard. Some action sequences are filmed with an amount of verve, such as a jewelry heist early on and a latter fight in the catwalks above a ballet performance. Other sequences, including a rickety Ferris-wheel rescue and the climactic showdown between Catwoman and the villain fail to energize the screen. Unfortunately, some computer generated imagery, including the shots of Catwoman leaping building to building and a few close-ups of the cats at Patience’s “resurrection” are poorly realized. Ironically, this makes them the perfect metaphor for the film itself.