Thursday, April 12, 2012

TOO MANY LIVES FOR CATWOMAN?

It’s funny. I really, really, really wanted to write something positive about Hollywood this week. I’d written a number of exceptionally critical pieces in the last months and was looking for a positive theme. I was actually going to write about ‘What’s great in Hollywood’ despite a tepid year so far at the Cineplex. There are a number of things worthy of praise in Tinseltown these days. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are doing the movie version of OSAGE COUNTY. Jean Dujardin won the Oscar and may very well be the next Marcello Mastroianni. And Jennifer Westfeldt’s FRIENDS WITH KIDS is a four-star movie with an Oscar nomination worthy male lead performance by Adam Scott.
But then I saw the cover of this week’s Entertainment Weekly and my heart sank. And once again, I felt compelled to be exceptionally critical of Hollywood another week.

As I studied the cover I was overtaken with a feeling of déjà vu. Hadn’t I seen this picture, this story, and this movie already? It’s not that it’s just the third outing with Christian Bale as Batman but it is yet another version with Catwoman. Yawn.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a Catwoman fan and have always been a big Batman fan. And there is part of me that hopes that Anne Hathaway’s take on the role is as good as Heath Ledger’s game-changing Joker was in THE DARK KNIGHT in 2008. But we’ve had Catwoman prowling the big screen four times now, first with Lee Meriwether in BATMAN (1966), Michelle Pfeiffer in BATMAN RETURNS (1992), Halle Berry in CATWOMAN (2004) and now the Hathaway version in the upcoming THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. And the character continues to be a big presence in all of the animated versions that Warner Bros. does of Batman. But still even they’ve done at least four different iterations of the character there in the last 20 years too. How much Catwoman does a fan boy need? Honestly?

Now, Catwoman is a great character, true. And she has been done superbly.  Julie Newmar created a seminal take on the character in the ABC TV series in the Sixties. And the first animated series did a complex and sympathetic version (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau) in the early 90’s. But that terrific turn by Pfeiffer seems to have put Catwoman in a leather & vinyl straightjacket. Her version portrayed Selina Kyle (Catwoman’s true identity) as an embittered woman who became a vigilante donning leather that could out-macho the Caped Crusader. And she’s been portrayed virtually the same way since, even in the animated TV iterations. It’s all a little too redundant for my tastes. This version of the cat doesn’t have just nine lives, it feels more like 17! 


And the pictures coming out from the new movie give me even more flashbacks. Take a look at this still from writer/director Christopher Nolan’s new movie and tell me that it doesn't seem awfully close to so much of the Pfeiffer version. Homage or redundancy? You know my vote.
Anne Hathaway & Christian Bale echo Michelle Pfeiffer & Michael Keaton, no?
The real issue is why do they keep doing Catwoman over and over and over again? Especially when there are other great female characters from the Batman oeuvre yet to be tapped. Talia, the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul, is a strong and complicated female character from the Batman comics who has yet to show up in any live action version of the story. She’s not only the conflicted daughter of the immortal crime lord, but she’s in love with Batman, and at various times in the Batman comics he’s been very much in love with her. He even fathered her child in one series. Now there’s a new twist for the Batman tale on the big screen.
Talia, the daughter of Ra's Al Ghul, as portrayed in the DC comics


Another standout female character yet to be given any time on the big screen is fan favorite Harley Quinn, the wisecracking moll of Joker. I'd love to see a Kristen Bell or Kristen Chenoweth rip into that over-the-top villainess.  Granted, it may be quite some time before Harley gets her due. Not only has the Joker had many iterations on the big screen but Heath Ledger is no longer with us to reprise his Oscar-winning role. What a shame.
Harley Quinn, a villain character created for the animated series in the early 90's.

There are other female foils and villains that Warner Bros. could easily bring to life as well. Why not the likes of Madame Zodiac, Sister Crystal, or best of all, Zatanna the magician? She’s an expert at illusions and mind control. Now, wouldn’t that be fresher than yet another version of the kitten with a whip?
Zatanna the magician as portrayed in the comic books
Nolan has done wondrous things with the series. His serious grounding of the property reinvented the franchise on film after the misguided Joel Schumacher almost ruined the whole show with his god-awful takes BATMAN FOREVER (1995) and BATMAN & ROBIN (1997). Nolan added a much-needed gravitas to the franchise that gave it real heft. I just wish he hadn’t brought back Catwoman yet again. 


Perhaps I will be proven wrong and soon shall be singing the praises of Nolan and Miss Hathaway. But right now, it just feels all too damn familiar. And in a movie season that will bring more and more regurgitation of the overly familiar, from Spider-man to the Stooges, it would have been nice to see a fresh female villain battling with Batman. Maybe when the franchise is rebooted yet again (Nolan says he's done but we'll see...) we'll get the chance to see the series stretch a bit more. If you're a fan boy of Batman like me, that would be most welcome. In fact, it would be purrfect.

5 comments:

  1. Harley Quinn would be a welcome change and Chenowifh would be a great choice. My choice for the Worst Woman Ever in a Batman Movie would have to be the exceedingly bland Maggie Gyllenhall.

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  2. Talia will make an appearance. from the intergoogle...

    Now, it looks like 13-year-old Joey King has revealed her role, potentially giving away another villain that has been speculated by fans for quite some time now. Check out what our friends at MyEntertainmentWorld.ca managed to get out of her:

    "I play young Talia al Ghul. I can't give too much away because I promised Mr. Nolan I wouldn't say anything. There are too many secrets about the character and the movie."

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  3. McDave, thanks for your thoughts. The Batman movies seem to always have female troubles. From Kim Basinger as a scattered and tremulous Vicki Vale on down to every sequel. Sigh.

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  4. Jeff Parson, thanks for posting! I didn't know that about the Talia character. Not sure how they're going to do that without Ra's Al Ghul but that's at least something different. I appreciate you sharing that info!

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  5. Regarding possibly singing the praises of the tepid Ms. Hathaway. I doubt it. Heath Ledger's Joker managed to be every bit as chilling as Malcolm McDowell's classic performance in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. That's a rare accomplishment entirely outside the bounds of her limited talent, which is better suited to lighter fare. Her Catwoman is not worthy to even lap up warm Joker venom in a saucer at his feat.

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