I don't much care for popular concensus in general. The opinions of the average guy are often quite insufferably, well, average; how else to explain the popularity of Britney Spears? But every once in a while, by sheer statistical probability, the masses get it right, and this is one of those times. Catwoman really does suck about as much as its reputation would suggest.
As the story goes, Catwoman was kicking around in development hell for nigh on to forever before it finally crawled squealing into the world. It was, allegedly, going to follow the character after the events in Tim Burton's Batman Returns and would again have starred Michelle Pfeiffer as Selena Kyle. After over a decade of mistreatment in various foster homes for abandoned movies, Returns screenwriter Daniel Waters was dropped from the project, along with Pfeiffer, and ultimately along with the character of Selena Kyle, as well. By the time it saw the light of day, the only thing it had to do with the original Batman character was the name. They might as well have just gone ahead and done away with that, as well.
So now we have Halle Berry as Patience Phillips, a wanna-be designer toiling away at a job that treats her like shit, until one day she overhears her boss plotting to fleece the public via some extremely dodgy product and is uncermoniously taken out, so to speak, before she can divulge what she knows. A mass of cats gathers around her body, and magically, she is revived. If that sounds like it was ripped wholesale from the origin story in Batman Returns, well, it probably was, likely a lingering vestige of some very early script that never got fully rewritten, probably one of the only things that wasn't. In this case, however, her resurrection is indeed of the magical type, as a gray cat which is alternately real and CG (and boy, howdy, can you tell which is which) climbs atop her and gives her the breath of life, causing her to manifest slitted cat-pupils, extreme dexterity, telescopic vision, a lust for catnip, a penchant for slutty clothes, and lots of other silly crap. Passing a jewelry heist in progress one night hence, she decides, apparently on a whim, to fight crime. The film, content to simply be dull and trite before this point, now becomes outright silly in a particularly aggressive manner.
It's honestly startling to see a film this overtly ridiculous in this day and age, when all these kinds of mistakes have already been made for you by your predecessors, from whom you should theoretically have learned. Alas, this seems like a '60s or '70s-era attempt at making a superhero flick, back when "campy" wasn't hip or ironic, but what filmmakers honestly thought these films should be like. Berry's sass-talking and feline affectations are about as snicker-inducing as similar examples from Sid and Marty Krofft's Electra-Woman and Dyna Girl, at a million times the budget. The plot, too, is barely more substantial; her megalomaniac employer is planning to market an anti-aging creme that makes your face break out with really bad acne if you quit using it. While Spider-Man was saving New York from being incinerated by a fusion reactor the same year, Catwoman was saving women from pimples; possibly never before, I think, has there been a film so obviously crafted by men whose entire knowledge of women stems from fashion magazines. If one was feeling extremely generous, one could almost view it as some sort of scathing self-criticism, a shallow, superficial film about shallow people and superficial concerns. As it is, I'm not feeling nearly so generous. The film is just plain stupid. In the world of Catwoman, sluttiness=empowerment and the evil that must be averted is the Great Make-Up Catastrophe; please note again that the toxic creme doesn't kill anyone, it just makes women unattractive, apparently the worst tragedy the creators could imagine. Having to sit through this film more than once would be, I imagine, an even greater one.
Even looking past the broad strokes of characters, story, and motivation, the film rampantly fails to be coherent or logical. After thwarting the jewelry heist, Patience awakens the next morning to find that she apparently has stolen all of the jewels herself, which she then returns. What is one to make of this? Has the Catwoman persona become some kind of dissociative identity, acting on its own impulses? Is this some kind of internal battle of desire versus constructed moral obligations, the id battling the superego for identity? Or is it, as seems more likely, a plot point which is never explained or touched upon again, and which results in nothing coming of it? In its own way, it makes about as much sense as the early scene where Patience hides from her would-be killers, back flat against a wall, and manages to cast a shadow on the opposite wall in a way that probably had the poor, beleagured cinematographer in tears of protest. It makes as much sense as the scene wherein a Ferris wheel unscrews itself bolt by bolt, only to be stopped by Patience's cop boyfriend and a wrench, using a trick the average cop apparently knows and fairground personnel do not. It makes as much sense as editing every other scene like a dance video-indeed, the entire soundtrack seems to consist of sleazy, electronica-tinged, please-fuck-me RnB music that leaves me wanting to sponge out my ears.
There are several other characters in this film, whose personalities, just two days later, I've already completely forgotten.
There's a lesson which filmdom at large seems to have to re-learn over and over, which is that films adapted from beloved source material tend to perform well if they remain true to said source, eg. The Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, Casino Royale. Films that dispense with the source material, eg this, Batman and Robin, that Will Ferrel Land of the Lost flick, tend to be received poorly. I don't know to whence this truism keeps disappearing; perhaps it was swallowed by the same ravenous vortex of inanity that consumed the director's last name. Note to "Pitof:" the '80s are long since over, and good riddance.
-review by Matt Murray