Friday, July 25, 2008

Unnecessary Advice, Part the Second

Last time, I was kind enough to tell the most successful filmmakers currently operating -- the men who wrote and directed The Dark Knight -- how to do their job better. It's the kind of thing I do.

I finished by suggesting that their next installment in the Batman franchise should feature Catwoman, a character in desperate need of rehabilitation after the debacle of the Halle Berry film a couple of years ago. Unwittingly, the makers of that horrid film did all of us Cat-fans a favor: they did not use the name "Selina Kyle" or any other recognizable Bat-verse trappings in their stink-bomb, and that means we can cheerfully pretend the movie never existed.

If Christopher Nolan can rescue Batman from Joel Schumacher's nipple-suited incompetence, there's no reason why he can't save Catwoman from that French fashion photographer's clutches.

And here's how:

1. Catwoman is a villain. Oh, not a murderous psychopath like the Joker or most of the rest of the Bat Rogues Gallery, but a villain nonetheless. She steals stuff. Lots of stuff. Lots of pricey stuff. And while she might not be out to slaughter the populace, if you get in her way, you're in for some rough treatment. She has claws and a whip and she's not shy about using them.

I make this point first and foremost because the tendency with Catwoman for years now is to play her as some kind of wishy-washy sorta-kinda heroine. She steals things, but she also helps the downtrodden or whatever. All this has ever accomplished is to render her bland. And I can't help but think that it stems from a kind of sexism, the kind that can't fathom a woman unapologetically doing bad things for personal gain. The same writers who have no problem with male villains setting the planet on fire and cackling while it burns balk at the notion of a woman swiping some jewelry. Seems a little hypocritical.

So to do Catwoman right, you gotta do her bad.

2. Catwoman, like the Joker, is an ideal foil for Batman. You don't challenge Batman physically, because he will beat you up. You don't challenge Batman intellectually, because he will outsmart you. To be an interesting Bat-villain, you have to sidestep all that. The Joker does it by calling into question all the concepts that Bruce Wayne has devoted his life to: honor, duty, justice, order. That's what's dangerous about him; that's why he can stay in the ring with Batman longer than most.

Catwoman challenges Batman in a different but equally effective way; she challenges him emotionally. Batman devotes his life to the notion that criminals are vermin, filth preying on the innocent. Then along comes Catwoman and he sees a criminal who is attractive, smart, a match for him in every way. She makes being bad seem pretty good.

Batman has worked for years honing his body and his mind to pursue his single-minded mission, but emotionally, he has never developed past being the little boy in the alley watching his parents as they were gunned down. The bimbos that hang off Bruce Wayne's arm as he traipses about Gotham don't engage him at all; they're just another part of his secret life, like an expensive suit or a Rolex. But Catwoman is another story. She'd be intoxicating to the most well-adjusted of men. For emotionally infantile Bruce Wayne, she's like the purest heroin.

3. Catwoman enters the movie fully formed. Here, the makers of The Dark Knight should copy exactly what they did with the Joker: no origin story. Much as I loved Michelle Pfeiffer's portrayal of Selina back in Tim Burton's Batman Returns, I hated the whole cats-licked-me-back-to-life bit. Take all the supernatural gobbledygook out of it. She dresses up like a cat and steals stuff. Because she likes to. Period.

4. And speaking of dressing up, Catwoman is in serious need of an extreme makeover. Halle Berry looked great in her leathers -- her insanely aerobicized physique was the only worthwhile thing in that movie -- but the costume itself was atrocious. Michelle Pfeiffer's Bride of Frankenstein stitch job on her latex outfit was a fine representation of the state of her mind, but wouldn't really suit the decidedly sane and elegant jewel thief Catwoman is at her best.

I say, go back a little farther. Back to the character's roots. Well maybe not all the way back. In her first comics appearance, she wore a rather dull green dress. In subsequent stories, she was seen with a Halloween-style full cat head. But after Bob Kane got that nonsense out of his system, he designed a doozy for her. Take a look at this, courtesy of the late great Dave Stevens.

Elegant, sleek and glamorous. A sly feminine echo of Batman's own get-up. In the comics of late, Catwoman has gone from the ridiculous, impossibly voluptuous "Bad Girl" look that Jim Balent gave her, to her current utilitarian Darwyn Cooke-designed gear. Neither is very appealing. Neither would work well on screen.

This outfit, however -- with a tweak here and there -- would work nicely. Sexy but classy. And most important, a million miles away from Halle's travesty.

5. Finally, casting. I'm sure there are other solid candidates, but I find myself hung up on one name. Kate Beckinsale. She played Ava Gardner in The Aviator and Ava was an inspiration for Catwoman's original look (along with Hedy Lamarr). Also, her character in the Underworld movies is named "Selene."

See? She's halfway there already.

If you have a different idea for how Catwoman should be portrayed (or cast), feel free to sound off in the comments section. Let's all tell Christopher Nolan how to do his job.

Oh, and happy birthday Kate Beckinsale.


stigma said...

Wow. I disagree on every point. I'd love to see Catwoman in Nolan's future film, but she has to be done right.

stigma said...

here is what someone wrote about fitting Catwoman in Nolan's universe. for the most part, i agree with him/her:

"In the comics, catwoman’s origins started as an abused girl and Frank Miller even portrayed her as a prostitute. I believe that this would fit in well with Nolan’s formula for the batman films. Have her as an abused girl or prostitute who was abused by one of gotham’s criminals or one of the mafia guys. When she become’s catwoman, she is focused on riding gotham of these types of criminals. In the comics, catwoman was sometimes written as a heroine rather than villain and what’s interesting with catwoman is that she follows her own moral code similar to how batman does as well. However, her version of vigilante justice is more extreme than batman’s. Where he does not believing in killing any villain, catwoman believes that this is the only type of justice these criminals deserve. This would serve as the context of the conflict between batman and catwoman.
I also believe that the next batman film will have a strong focus on the character of Bruce Wayne, the man behind the mask. Batman Begins saw Bruce Wayne construct himself into the batman, The Dark Knight focused heavily on the batman, I believe the next film will see Nolan deconstruct batman back down and focus a lot on Bruce. Nolan gave us a glimpse of this in the Dark Knight as he portrayed a Bruce Wayne as someone who was starting to question the purpose and role of masked hero in gotham. Catwoman’s true identity as Selina Kyle would be a perfect fit in the movie to serve as Bruce Wayne’s love interest.
Keeping with the focus on Bruce Wayne, I also believe that the next movie will see Batman face the challenge of trying to protect his real identity as Bruce. Again, the Dark Knight showed us a glimpse of this plot."

johnnypopculture said...

Hey Stigma! Thanks for the comment. But I'm sticking to my guns here; you're not going to out-dark the Ledger Joker, so the smartest move is to not try. Comics in general and Batman in particular can support a myriad of different types of stories: over the years there have been great Batman thrillers, comedies, mysteries, and romances. Hollywood is just starting to figure out that these characters can do more than punch and blow stuff up; it's time to really push the envelope. A twisted, dark, sexy Batman/Catwoman romance is just the thing. But she has to be two things: she has to be someone he might actually fall for (why would he fall in love with a murderous ex-prostitute?) and she has to be absolutely 100% NOT Halle's pseudo-Catwoman. Ledger's Joker succeeded in part because the creators went back to the roots of the character. Do the same for Selina!

John and Dave talks Oscar nomination predictions