Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Movie I Just Watched: Catwoman (2004)


Catwoman (2004, Dir: Pitof) has been on television quite a lot recently, which makes a perverse sort of sense. After all, any channel foolish enough to hand over real money for the broadcast rights to this dreck might as well keep on using it, hoping the cumulative number of viewers might somehow justify the lousy investment. It probably won't have done the channel's reputation much good, but then again, this is ITV, purveyors of braindead reality television only one step up from (urgh) BBC Three's legendarily dreadful 'youth-targeted' output, including the splendidly-titled Can Fat Teens Hunt? and Snog, Marry, Avoid.

Catwoman is every bit as demeaning as either of those two shows, or the many ITV equivalents where famous people are put through increasingly humiliating trials for the attention (and perceived adoration) of those watching at home. Despite proclaiming a pseudo-feminist mantra at every available opportunity, the movie is an embarrassing example of how sleazy Hollywood's notions are of what a strong woman can or should be.
 
Empowered seems to here be defined as living as an outlaw, and not even one with much apparent interest in fighting crime: Catwoman commits more than she stops. Her idea of freedom seems to involve walking with a narcissistic bounce of the hips that begs for male attention. Far from giving strength and confidence, Patience Phillips' transformation instead makes her a figure of eye-rolling camp: she wolfs down sushi because she can't get enough of dat fish, she orders White Russians with no vodka (presumably because she likes cream, rather than not being able to handle her alcohol) and regularly crawls around on all fours. Her puns - 'Cat got your tongue', etc - are even dreadful by my standards.

Director Pitof (the French McG, as if a worse thing could ever exist) doesn't even allow her the minor grace of existing for quite a lot of her own movie, replacing her with a pathetically unconvincing CGI model, whose movements are supposed to be graceful and feline but instead appear jerky and weightless. The camera constantly swirls around her, leering in that oh-so-feminist way over every rip in her leather trousers and every inch of her hoisted breasts. Most of this happens to the CGI Catwoman rather than the Halle Berry one too, either suggesting the actress refused to partake in such a sleazy spectacle (which doesn't explain why she'd sign up for a movie so rampant with it, but never mind) or Pitof considered the fake woman more worthy of viewers' lust than the real one, speaking volumes about every kind of misappropriated standard the movie projects.

This is 'Catwoman' in title and penchant for leather ears only. The character's name, Patience Phillips, is meaningless and bland compared to the sexy dynamism of a Selina Kyle. The 'home-made' nature of her costume bears no relation to the catsuits from the comics - there is no respect or understanding for the source material on display here - nor shows any of the realist practicality that allows the Christopher Nolan Batman movies some leeway for revisionism. The original Catwoman uses sex as part of her persona and her power: here it's a marketing ploy, and never feels any less cynical no matter how much unjustified guff about 'freedom' and 'empowerment' is crammed into the script, as though repetition will eventually turn into fact.

If the producers were at some point aiming for a comic book audience, they ended up with a movie more appropriate for the gay following which worships at the feet of Madonna, Lady Gaga and countless other disco divas with muddled ideas about sex and female power. This is 'You Go, Girl!' empowerment, meaning attention-seeking masquerading as kitsch spectacle. The movie doesn't even deserve that much credit, since at least Madonna was pushing boundaries - this is all very PG-13 - and Gaga offers positive messages about acceptance. The Patience Phillips model of feminism involves acquiring power by accident and turning from a bookish but essentially decent working woman into an attention-starved vigilante enslaved to her stupidest animal urges for sushi and sleeping in inconvenient places.

Even Catwoman's rudimentary plot cannot fail but undermine women, revolving around a cosmetic company which develops a new anti-aging cream that causes terrible scarring if not regularly applied. (For the sake of convenience, it also hardens the skin just enough for a villainess to be able to fight off a super-powered Halle Berry). No satire is contained in its presumptive notion that all women are slaves to their make-up drawer, nor the faintest hint of irony in how the only woman in the movie to genuinely take an initiative turns out to be the villain, or the metaphorical value of a hardened skin being seen as a negative, or... well, you get the picture.

Given how twenty-eight writers were rumoured to have been involved with this mess, the tone is misguided but startlingly consistent from start to finish. That dedication makes the movie a slightly more interesting failure than Jonah Hex, for example, a seventy minute endurance test of semi-aborted ideas and violently schizophrenic plotting. Catwoman may be resoundingly idiotic, but it sticks to its guns over that idiocy, even as it digs itself into a deeper hole with every passing minute. Where Jonah Hex barely qualifies as a coherent movie, Catwoman has a tone, plot and characters it sticks with all the way to the end. Its greatest crime is the seeming knowledge that the people involved had some idea of they were doing, but went ahead with it anyway.
  

 
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