How Bad Is… Catwoman (2004)?
We take a look at DC comics’ other, less popular, female led super hero movie, Catwoman.
Wonder Woman has been lauded as not only the best film in the DC extended universe, but also the best film featuring a female lead. Talk about being damned with faint praise! The DCEU is filled with mediocre offerings such as Suicide Squad, and awful flicks…such as everything else in the DCEU. Making a better film than Man of Steel or Batman V Superman is like making the definitive mud-pie. Nice, I guess, but not a hell of an accomplishment.
On top of having to overcome those films, Wonder Woman had to overcome the small but stinky roster of female led comic book movies. This is a genre including such luminaries as Tank Girl, Elektra, and Super Girl. That reads like a list of worst movies ever made. Well one film on many actual lists of worst movie ever made is DC’s 2004 spinoff Catwoman. Starring Halle Berry as a weird version of Batman’s iconic villainess/love interest, Catwoman was universally reviled and bombed at the box office. Now that female led super-hero movies are back in the spotlight, we ask: How Bad Is Catwoman?
Patience Phillips is an awkward graphical design artist working a thankless job at a make-up conglomerate. Working late one day, she stumbles upon a secret meeting where the company’s higher ups are discussing their new beauty aid: Beau-Line, a product that can grant eternal youth, if you survive all of the lethal side effects. When discovered, Patience is killed, but a magical cat from Egypt grants her a second chance at a life along with cooky cat powers. As the sexy and silly super-hero called Catwoman, Patience attempts to avenge herself and win the heart of a hunky homicide detective.
What Went Wrong?
Catwoman suffers from three major problems:
- The characters are silly caricatures that are mostly played for laughs. Sharon Stone plays the antagonist, who is a scorned woman, and that’s about it. All of Patience’s co-workers are flimsy office stereotypes, from the brassy and flirty best friend (who literally never stops flirting, even when she almost dies) to the sassy gay cubicle mate. Even Catwoman is a caricature. Patience is a mousey introvert whose defining characteristic is bumping into people. A lot. When she gets her powers, she becomes a showy sex-pot who struts aggressively from point A to point B. That is when she isn’t running around on all fours up walls.
- The CGI is atrocious. Catwoman’s preferred method of travel is running and pouncing up buildings in order to strut like a supermodel along the top. The CG that animates her feline movements is really, really bad. Add to that that the movie chooses to create a CG skyline for the unnamed city, which looks extremely chintzy. Was Vancouver booked? The icing on the cake is all of the computer generated cats, which often look like a Fancy Feast commercial from hell.
- No Continuity. This Catwoman is not Selina Kyle, she doesn’t live in Gotham City, and she’s only a jewel thief in one throw-away scene that was obviously inserted to thwart criticism. Good luck with that! I don’t need Batman to be directly or indirectly in this picture. Hell, I like that Catwoman gets to do her own thing sans-bat…but you can’t chuck all of the character in the kitty litter and get away with calling this Catwoman!
What Went Right?
Catwoman is not without its good moments. For all of the bad CG of the character, the fight scenes (before the final show down) are nicely choreographed. Catwoman has a distinctive style, using lots of kicks adapted from Capoeira and her iconic whip. When they actually rely on practical effects, the fights are pretty decent.
Despite being two dimensional and gimmicky, Halle Berry manages to be charming. It’s hard to make Berry unwatchable, and she manages to shine through the bad script in several scenes. The same can be said of Sharon Stone, though the script hits her in the knee-caps harder than Berry.
Finally, the film attempts some daring visuals. The effects used to simulate Catwoman’s cat-sense are at least novel. There are a few big set-pieces that have interesting camera work. The scene at a Cirque Du Soleil knock-off has some great angles and smart cuts. Overall, the camera work is more than competent, and several times quite remarkable.
How Bad Is It?
As bad as the press is for this film, I expected to find it unwatchable. It’s actually not that bad, especially given the time period it came out. Around the same time we got The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Blade 3, Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3, Superman Returns and The Hulk. Those are all pretty lousy super-hero movies. I would argue that each of those is far harder to watch than Catwoman.
I found myself entertained by Catwoman, though distracted by the awful CG. The thin characters and cheesy plot all seemed par for the course for a comic book movie pre Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Catwoman is probably better than both Schumacher Batman movies. It’s a far sight better than Marvel’s Elektra spin-off…but that’s a story for another day.