If there’s anything that both Marvel and DC cinematic universes have taught is, it’s that not all superheroes (or villains) are born equal. While, historically, there have been perpetual regurgitations of the same selection of superheroes being dramatized every few years, other heroes are often entirely forgotten about. One bad film, or lack of recognition from the powers at be see the same superheroes forever sitting on the bench, their future uncertain.
It’s a genuine tragedy, for example, that yet another Batman and Superman film will take precedence over the introduction of Wonder Woman to DC’s extended universe, or that her cinematic introduction will be alongside Aquaman in a gratuitous cameo, while the main characters of Batman vs Superman have been seen countless times before this current regurgitation.
Perhaps one of the most tragic cases in which this ignoring of superheroes has occurred is to Catwoman, whose representation throughout DC’s extended universe and cinematic history has been tragic at best – therefore, she has been relegated to the side lines, and her lack of presence/representation within the current cinematic universe and extended universe seems like a genuine tragedy.
Who is Selina Kyle?
It’s a rather sad state of affairs that her representation has been minimal throughout cinematic history, especially given the fact that DC Comics have always had a reputation of creating phenomenal villain types. In a comic book setting, their characters are always far more dynamic, and their backstories more intricately considered, and are more in depth than their Marvel rivals, and Catwoman’s story is no different; she is an infinitely dynamic character.
When first introduced into the comic book canon, Selina Kyle was nothing more than a petty thief, her plans ultimately foiled when good insisted on prevailing over the burgeoning evil bubbling below Gotham’s streets. But over the years, her character has developed in a manner that only DC Comic writers seemingly know how; and her progression throughout the canon has been genuinely impressive – and her story arc has seen her develop from a simple villain, to a truly complex and interesting character.
Edit: I feel like I need to point out that the New 52 incarnation of Selina Kyle and Catwoman is not included in my gushing about DC Comics.
Before becoming Catwoman, Selina Kyle’s life was steeped in tragedy. Her brutalised mother committed suicide, leading her father to drink himself to death. As a result, she and her sister were separated, with Kyle being placed in an abusive orphanage. Upon her escape, Selina took her chances pickpocketing outside of the local circus, but was captured by its owner – it was here she was taught her acrobatic skills, before being thrust back into the real world, where she fell into the hands of an abusive pimp.
The concept of her alter ego, Catwoman, wasn’t a thought in her mind, until she accidentally happened upon Batman fighting crime one night – inspired by him, she adopted her alter ego, Catwoman.
Catwoman in cinema
Part of the reason audiences won’t get to see the Catwoman we deserve, lies undoubtedly in her previous representations in cinema so far. Catwoman has been portrayed numerous ways, yes, but none of them touch upon the true intricacies and brilliance of our favourite comic book feline.
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman
In 1992, Michelle Pfeiffer portrayed Catwoman in Batman Returns, and although a the time, she was a firm fan favourite, there were definite flaws in her character’s storyline – the main example being, her entire alter ego hinged on a break in her troubled reality.
Ultimately, Selina Kyle was overlooked in her reality; ignored and treated cruelly by those around her – she was too sweet and timid, her professional career was barely considered a career at all, and she spent a lot of her spare time being chastised by her mother for not being married.
Selina Kyle’s existence was lonely, and her lifestyle sees her adhering to gender stereotypes often given to lonely women. Her apartment, in its entirety is steeped in a baby pink glow- a howling hyper-feminine stereotype – and her main routine involved her listening to her answering machine, akin to an awkward teenager with a crush. Selina Kyle’s life screamed stereotype – she is a lonely bitter spinster, and it is this state of mind that brings her alter ego into fruition.
The ultimate break in Selina Kyle’s reality, thus, is portrayed through the destruction of her alleged femininity; the telephone she diligently listened to as part of her routine is smashed in a fit of rage, before Kyle proceeds to destroy her overly pink apartment and covering it in black paint – a symbolic shift and overt negation of the hyper-feminine stereotypes she adhered to previously. In Batman Returns, it is this shift and break in Selina Kyle’s reality that allows for Catwoman to be introduced to the plot.
For me, it feels incredibly sad that this version of Catwoman has been established through bitterness and loneliness; it seems poorly conceived and not at all representative of her place in the comic book canon – not to mention the contrived manner in which she is brought back to life by receiving thousands of cat nibbles, which is too horrendous to discuss.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of Catwoman – at least in my opinion – feels like an affront to the comic book character; Selina Kyle had no concept of herself, or any independence to speak of and her main story arc in Batman Returns sees her main conflict being her feelings for Bruce Wayne/Batman; after watching Batman Returns, I always feel bitterly disappointed in her representation.
Halle Berry as Catwoman
Following Batman Returns, Catwoman was not seen again until 2004, when Halle Berry donned kitten ears, and seemingly hammered the final nail in the coffin, as far as female-led solo comic book adaptations were concerned.
Ultimately, the Catwoman of 2004 was not a movie about Catwoman at all – and let’s face it, barely even tried to be. In spite of the laughable CGI sequences, I feel that even the most die-hard comic fans would have given the movie the benefit of the doubt, if the plot had not been completely dire and the comic book source material entirely ignored. 2004’s Catwoman made no attempt to be true to Selina Kyle’s comic book origins; even her name was foregone, in place of a sickeningly saccharine name of choice: Patience Philips.
For a supposed action film focused on a female protagonist, the entire premise of Catwoman seemed overtly chick flick-y. While the concept was relatively sound, it seemed like the writers were so incredibly conscious that this wasn’t a comic book adaptation akin to the likes of Superman or Batman, but a film in which the protagonist was a woman and that as a result, it needed to contain aspects within the plot that women could relate to. Thus, the narrative audiences were delivered involved make-up, a huge focus on a love interest and adorable cats! However, as a result, Catwoman only served to alienate female comic fans and women in general with the blatant marginalisation that introduced a rather unflattering concept: women cannot focus on a film unless it contains things that women truly enjoy. Ergo, the grit and darkness that Gotham is renowned for, and the world that Catwoman actually belongs to is too much for women to enjoy, and thus the movie was reduced to a horrifying preconceived notion that women who enjoy cinema enjoy relatable fluff.
Further to this, the hyper-sexualisation of Halle Berry’s Catwoman also played into this narrative. Given that the movie was aimed at a female audience, there still had to be a way to draw the attention of a male audience, and seemingly the only manner in which this can be achieved in a movie that focuses greatly on make-up and girly things, is making the protagonist as hot as possible. The male gaze, thus, plays a vital role in deconstructing the entire concept of DC’s Catwoman.
While Selina Kyle’s Catwoman is a sexual character, this is not all that Catwoman is about; her sexuality is a lot more than her simply looking good in a costume, yet this movie entirely negates this concept and promotes an unfortunate stereotype that reduces women down to ultra-feminine sex symbols, when attempting to do anything that is comparative to the male superhero.
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman
Audiences were given a glimmer of hope with Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). While Selina Kyle did fall into the unfortunate narratives that modern cinema reserves for the female, it wasn’t as obvious or as blatantly focused upon as it had been in the past. Instead, Christopher Nolan’s direction focused on Catwoman’s cunning and her devious nature, alongside her moral code that sees Selina Kyle tiptoeing the line between good and bad; taking what the rich won’t miss, for example, is more of a focus in The Dark Knight Rises than what she looks like, or whether or not she fancies Batman.
Hathaway, while never being referred to as anything other than ‘the cat’, embodied more of the Selina Kyle comic book character that fans have been waiting for, than any prior representation of Catwoman has – and it was refreshing to see her as an integral part of the plot, without relying entirely on her sexuality, or the fact that she look good in a tight costume.
It feels that, because of Hathaway’s representation of Catwoman, that audiences are ready for a standalone Catwoman movie that truly represents the Selina Kyle of the comic books. Hathaway’s representation and Christopher Nolan’s realistic directorial approach to the character – and as a result, the audience’s reaction to her – proves that providing audiences with a proper Catwoman origin story could be successfully developed, and executed into something more than a deranged woman reliant on a male character’s seal of approval, or Harriet the Spy playing feline dress up during her wayward teenaged years.