BY JOHN BILLINGER
Continuing on from what I started earlier this month, I will be looking at films that are considered the worst that Hollywood has produced. Last week was North, an awful family comedy from 1994. This week will be a superhero film from the early 2000s. Superhero films during that time are interesting to look back on in retrospect. This was right before superhero films became these big sprawling cinematic universes, and when you look at them with today’s standards, one will notice that the tone is a bit off.
It seems like back then, they were trying to be a weird mix between edgy and fun. And for this reason, a lot of them aren’t held in high regard these days. Oh sure, the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films and 2005’s Batman Begins are held in high regard today, but in that mix, you had films like Daredevil, Hulk, Elektra, and the film that we are reviewing today (which incidentally is considered the worst), 2004’s Catwoman.
The original Catwoman character was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger and first appeared on the pages of Batman No. 1 in April of 1940. She’s sometimes a villain, sometimes a hero, and sometimes a love interest for Batman. Catwoman has been one of the prevailing characters in the Batman stories over the years, making her way into the Batman film series, being played by a variety of different actors, most recently Zoë Kravitz.
But between all those appearances, Warner Bros. gave Catwoman her very own spin-off solo film, and ever since they released it 19 years ago, they’ve been trying to forget it ever happened. Does it really deserve that treatment? I wanted to check for myself, so I watched the film, and…yeah. But before we talk about the film itself, here’s a little background on the making of this picture.
This film was in and out of production for a decade. Discussions for a Catwoman solo film started after the 1992 release of Batman Returns. While that film didn’t match the box office or critical success of its 1989 predecessor, its depiction of the character Catwoman (played in that film by Michelle Pfeiffer) was met with praise, and Warner Bros. was interested in making a sequel. When it was announced to be in development in 1993, Pfeiffer was set to reprise the role, Tim Burton (who directed the previous two Batman films) was to direct it, and Daniel Waters (who wrote the screenplay for Batman Returns) was to write the screenplay.
Production hit a roadblock though, as Waters thought it was a good idea to turn in his script to Warner Bros. on the same day that the next Batman film, Batman Forever was released. If you’ve seen Batman Returns and then watched Batman Forever (which was directed by Joel Schumacher and also had a different writer), you’d notice a stark difference between those two films. Batman Returns is dark, sinister, and definitely not fun for the whole family. On the other hand, Batman Forever is bright, cheery, and fun for the whole family. Probably not the best timing to hand in his script, as according to Waters, his script was, in words, “definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family script.”
Production for the film became slower after that, and soon enough, Pfeiffer, Burton, and Waters left the project. The film floated around, and different people went back and forth on it. At one point, Ashley Judd was going to be Catwoman, but ultimately she left the project as had others. By the early 2000s, the film was still yet to materialize and it probably wasn’t on top of the studio’s to-do list. But something that was on Warner Bros.’s to-do list was another DC project.
That project was a film that had both Batman and Superman, tentatively titled Batman vs. Superman, years before the Marvel and DC cinematic universes came about. Can you imagine what the cinematic superhero landscape would’ve been like if that had been made? This crossover project was in full development. They had Christian Bale in mind for Batman (who would later play the character in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy) and Josh Hartnett in mind for the role of Superman.
Filming was set for 2003, with the release set for 2004. However, the tone of the project was considered too dark (like that’d stop them later in 2016), and Warner Bros. decided to instead do two separate films for both Batman and Superman, which respectively resulted in Batman Begins and Superman Returns. To make up for the cost and the sudden gap in the release schedule, it was decided that production on the Catwoman solo film needed to pick up, and it was given the 2004 release that Batman vs. Superman previously had.
In the role of Catwoman was Halle Berry, who previously starred as a Bond girl in Die Another Day, and was herself no stranger to superhero films (she played Storm in the X-Men series). In the director’s chair was French director Pitof. No, that was no typo or writing mistake. The director of this movie goes by a super pretentious artsy pin-name that is Pitof. His real name is Jean-Chrisophe Comar, and he is a visual effects supervisor and sometimes director, mostly on French productions.
The only film project on his filmography list that I’m familiar with is Alien Resurrection, of which he worked as a second-unit director. Pitof said in an interview regarding his direction for the film: “I checked out some to see how Catwoman is treated in the comics, to make sure that our Catwoman was in the same vein. But I didn’t want to be too influenced by the comic book, because the whole point of the movie is to be first a movie, and to be different.”
I’m not sure what comics he checked out to get the “same vein” of the original character, but going off from the film, I’m guessing none of them. It certainly was different; I’ll grant him that.
The plot is as follows: Patience Phillips (played by Halle Berry) is a nervous and clumsy fashion artist, living in an unnamed city and working for a big makeup company run by a husband and wife team (played by Sharon Stone and Lambert Willson). Through some mishaps, Patience finds out that the two are creating a highly addictive but toxic makeup, and the two villains attempt to kill her. They succeed, but Patience is soon resurrected by an Egyptian Cat (that apparently has ties to the ancient Egyptian Gods), gives her cat superpower-type abilities, and leads her to become the superhero Catwoman. Along the way, she also has a romance with a police detective (played by Benjamin Bratt).
So, I think it’s immediately obvious to anyone that this film’s story has almost nothing to do with the original source material. I’m honestly stunned by the fact that they didn’t get anything right. The Catwoman in the comics was Selina Kyle, an orphan who grew up on the streets, learned martial arts, and eventually became the cat burglar Catwoman. I guess that the writers thought that that was too unrealistic, so they decided to pull the whole “Ancient Egyptian Cat Gods” out of nowhere.
And sure, when it comes to film adaptations, things are going to be changed. The Catwoman/Selina Kyle that appeared in Batman Returns was different from the source material, but that version at least pulled enough from the source material and still managed to be its own thing. This film’s version of the character is more like some rip-off of the character you’d see on the SyFy Channel rather than an official version. This film also has almost nothing to do with the wider Batman mythos. It’s not set in Gotham City(instead, it’s set in a generic unnamed city), and Batman is never mentioned. The closest it gets to the original material is a scene where she robs a museum. That’s it.
As for the story, it’s not very good. It has cliches we’ve seen in other superhero films, like the hero, who starts off all nervous and awkward but in the end, becomes a confident hero. We’ve seen this plot line in other films, including superhero films such as 2002’s Spider-Man, and Catwoman doesn’t do anything new with it. We also got a “love interest who doesn’t find out that she’s a superhero until the very end” cliche.
Has there ever been a superhero movie that didn’t have a love interest involved?
The whole “Ancient Egyptian Cat Gods” aspect is total nonsense, as stated previously. Also, expect the main character to make cat-related jokes. For example, when she’s interrogating a bad guy for information. at one point during the exchange, she grabs his tongue and says “Cat caught your tongue?” Or when she’s at a bar and orders in her words, “White Russian, no ice, no vodka… hold the Kahlua.”
The movie also tries to make a statement about female empowerment, as it features a female led character rising above her lowly status, but it has its main character wears a costume that resembles something a perverted 13-year-old boy would come up with. So, whatever point it’s trying to make is rather moot, in my opinion.
The film also has some glaring plot holes that stink like cat litter. For example, the bad guy’s plan in the movie is to release a new makeup that reverses your aging, but if you stop using it, your face falls apart, but if you keep using it as does Sharon Stone’s character, your face becomes invincible to damage. But when Catwoman and Sharon Stone have their big climactic final battle, Catwoman scratches Stone’s face and you see bleeding claw marks on her face for the remainder.
But wait, I thought it was supposed to make her face invincible? And remember how when you stop using the makeup, your face falls apart? Seems like a good way to get repeat customers. But one of Catwoman’s friends got a pre-release version of the makeup, started using it, and later stopped using it, but her face didn’t fall apart. The only thing that happened to her was that she got sick, but eventually got better. “Consistent writing.”
The directing is also awful. I don’t know much about the other films that Pitof (God, I hate that pin-name) has directed, but he is not a good director. There is one scene that’s early on in the film, where the evil CEO is giving a speech at a conference. If I were the director of this scene, I would have an establishing wide shot of the room, then a medium-long shot of the CEO giving the speech, a shot of the people at the table listening to the speech, and then a wide shot of them applauding his speech. Each shot would be delivered in slow succession. That’s how I would do it at least.
Pitof, however, decided to have a variety of different shots in quick rapid-fire succession. In just the first 10 seconds of this scene, there are a total of 5 shots that are each on screen for 1-2 seconds, and they range from close-ups, full body shots, and wide shots. The whole scene was like that. It went by so quickly that it hurt my eyes. Now, imagine an entire movie with that kind of directing, with fight scenes, montages, and a god-awful boring basketball game scene (I’m not joking).
Something good that I can mention in regard to the film is that the actors did a good job. These were all good actors who all had to make do with a crap script, especially Halle Berry. Yes, even though she is by far the worst on-screen Catwoman, it wasn’t her fault. It was the director and writers of this film who were to blame. She does her best, even though she knows it’s no good as do all the actors. It’s just sad that their talents were wasted in this 1:44:00 long travesty.
Overall, Catwoman is the poster child of not only a bad comic book adaptation, but a bad adaptation in general. It’s worse than Howard the Duck (a film I least found enjoyable in some way). I’m sure that this film’s version of Catwoman gets ranked among the other versions of Catwoman that have appeared in other media, but I’d argue that this version is so far removed from any other version, it shouldn’t even qualify as a version of the character. If there’s anything good to take away from the film, it’s to know what not to do when adapting something. In any case, stay tuned for more weird films in the future…
If you have any films suggestions to torture me with, please email me here: email@example.com
Side Note: Halle Berry stated in interviews that prior to making this film, she was more of a dog person than a cat person. After making this film, she adopted one of the cats seen in the film. At least something good came out of it.