The adaptation of Catwoman from comic book to film has been an interesting love/hate affair. The character has many interpretations in the comics, film, and television. There was the campy 60s movie, as well as Batman Returns, and the film, Catwoman. While I could go on about the many adaptations, for the sake of this post, I will focus on three films: Catwoman (2004), Batman Returns (1992), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).With Batman Returns Michelle Pfeiefer plays the role of Selena Kyle/Catwoman. This antagonist physiologically broke under the pressure of living in a very sexist, chauvinistic world that kills her multiple times in this film. Along with her strong desire for vengeance, she wants people to know we live in an unfair and cruel the world. Her rejection of Batman at the end of the film states explicitly she could not buy into the fairy tale Bruce/Batman offered.
With the film, Catwoman, Halle Berry plays Patience, a timid graphic designer who gets into a situation that leads to her murder. She’s revived by a cat spirit. This process releases her inner supernatural cat. Along the way Patience finds time to find romance, theft, and the desire to solve her own murder.
Patience’s death/revival by cats bears a strong resemblance to the Batman Returns film where Selena Kyle (Michelle Pfeiefer) is pushed out of a window by her boss, Max Schreck, and revived by cats. Kyle also has supernatural powers (nine lives). Patience has enhanced senses, reflexes, agility. At one point she squeezes through bars. Both characters love whips and contrast the fetish aspects of their costumes with female empowerment themes. Both heroines are involved in accidental deaths. (Patience: Laurel Hadare. Selena: The Ice Princess).
In The Dark Knight Rises, Catwoman, played by Anne Hathaway, plays a different character. She’s definitely a thief and grifter. This Catwoman possesses a strong sense of lethal skill tempered with a restrained cool and street smarts. Unlike Batman she’s not interested in saving Gotham, but acts out of personal reasons. Her independence from the major players in the game make her an antihero more than a villain. Several scenes in the film make sure to spotlight Selena Kyle’s somewhat caring nature. She does deftly uses her looks and skills to her advantage. For example she pretends to be well mannered only to get an officer to lower his defenses. Likewise she pretends to be a victim in order to fool cops during a raid. This Catwoman has a lot in common with a femme fatale of noir.
The Dark Knight Rises version of Selena Kyle/Catwoman has more in common with her comic book counterpart than the other film versions of Catwoman. Like Michelle Pfiefer’s character in Batman Returns, Catwoman shares the names”Selena Kyle,” but that’s about it when it comes to their origins. Like all three versions of the character, Ms. Kyle is a mix of sexy, skill, and confidence games. Catwoman makes a lot of deft moves, and gains the attraction of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
With the Dark Knight Returns, I noticed there was no affiliation with cats or use of the whip in this film with Catwoman. Instead she used a mix of fighting powers, thievery, espionage skills, and a love of guns. She wasn’t afraid of powerful men and despised those who attempt to double cross her. Catwoman, however is excellent at double crossing.
One of the main themes in Batman Returns and Catwoman appears to be “transforming of oneself.” Allowing the other side of our personalities, or doppleganger to run. This is nothing new to film or literature, as Patience and Selena releases their inner Mr. Hyde. If she were a vampire, or were wolf, the status would be the same. It is a classical transition and transformation. Dark Knight Rises, Catwoman is no stranger to duality herself. Despite the appearance of selfish ways, she has something of a caring heart.
What’s really astounding about Catwoman is how horrible the narrative and logic gets as the story progresses. Patience’s enhanced senses only work when its convenient to the plot. When Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone) sneaks up on her, and eventually frames her for murder, I wondered where Catwoman’s enhanced abilities went. She’s quite playful, and has a mild anti hero streak, but it fails when the film tries to go out of its way to show she has a good nature (like saving lives at a fairground).
This is not to say that Batman Returns is a perfect film at all. In some parts the logic simply fails, leaving Burton’s unique vision of Gotham City to carry the film. The dark, Gothic aspects of the film do linger in the mind, however the dumbness of several plot elements left me cold. I will say Catwoman was quite polarizing, and her rejection of Wayne/Batman really made the character stand out.
With the Dark Knight Returns the last image of Selena Kyle with Bruce Wayne suggests having the “fairy tale” ending to their lives. It’s quite the contrast from Batman Returns. While I like the idea of heroes saving the day, I kind of want to know what kind of life they’re leading now. Is it a dark and twisted life? Is it one of luxury and content. Better yet, people in costume are nuts, yet I love to read and watch them in action. Perhaps they’re both allowed to be selfish.