The 2004 Halle Berry vehicle Catwoman has been on Yakmala’s radar for a long time, but we’ve never had the courage to take the plunge. Spoiler alert: it’s just as bad as everyone says, if not worse.
Tagline: CATch Her in IMAX
More Accurate Tagline: Catch her in a giant cardboard box.
Guilty Party: This is probably unfair, but I’m blaming director Pitof for this one. Why? Because he has one name. I don’t care who you are — Wez, Galactus, or Cher — if you have only one name, you’re an asshole.
Synopsis: The credit sequence — which we’ll be seeing again, so you don’t have to pay too close attention — is a montage of images that establish a secret clan of Catwomen all over the world. They’re royalty, spies, circus performers, luchadores, courtesans; if there’s an occupation that can be performed in a ridiculous cat mask, they’re doing it. And yeah, this is somehow easier to explain to an audience than the idea of a cat burglar who just takes the “cat” part a little far.
The story starts up with some narration. “It all started on the day I died.” It then immediately flashes back to before she died, which makes that first line a total lie. Anyway, Patience Phillips (Halle Berry), sporting the worst name since Constance Justice worked as a rural juror, is a shy, mousey woman. See what they’re doing there? Mousey? Catwoman? I hate myself.
Right, so she looks like Halle Berry, but she’s clumsy, she wears what look to be a collection of festive blankets. She appears to have an aggressive case of vertigo as she runs into everyone on the way into work. She’s a graphic designer for a cosmetics company, working on the campaign for their new anti-aging cream.
In another fit of irony, they’re shunting aside their former model Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone) for a younger woman (Lady Not-Appearing-In-This-Picture), despite the fact that they are patenting anti-aging cream, and using an older model would kind of be perfect for that. Laurel is also the wife of the CEO George for no real reason. George is super mad at Patience for fucking up the exact shade of red on the advertisement, and gives her until midnight tomorrow night to fix it. Why midnight? Why not, say, first thing in the morning the day after tomorrow when the offices will be open? Because if he did that, Patience couldn’t stumble on his evil deeds!
Patience takes her corrected work (now with the kind of red George likes) to this waterfront warehouse where George works on the products and possibly importing snuff films from Eastern Europe. She walks in right when they’re revealing that the skin cream is addictive, and if you stop using it, rots the face right off you. Patience freaks out and George sends his goons after her. She ends up getting flushed out to sea and drowned.
Fortunately, a bunch of CGI cats find her body and breathe new life into her. They also turn her partly into CGI, which is the source of her powers. She wakes up in her apartment and finds the main cat — a breed called an Egyptian Mau (that’s like calling a dog a German Woof, but whatever) — who resuscitated her. For some reason, the cat has a paper with the name of Ophelia Powers on the collar… rather than, you know, the standard info on a collar which would have let Patience track Ophelia anyway.
Ophelia Powers (Frances Conroy at her Frances Conroyest) lives in the house from Up with all the cats ever. It has to smell like raw cat piss in there. Ophelia rants a little, but Patience is more interested in nuzzling the shit out of some catnip. Then she heads out. The craziness continues with her eating a bunch of tuna and hissing at dogs. It’s… I don’t even know.
One night after being kept up again by a loud party (and the lead party guy is played by one of the Volturi), Patience puts on some leather, cuts off her long hair, and goes to rob a jewelry store that’s in the process of being robbed. She steals some stuff, but returns it the next day along with cupcakes and a note with “Sorry.” The cop investigating, the unlikely named Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt) recognizes that “sorry,” as it was written on a cup after Patience stood him up for a coffee date because she was busy being dead. Oh yeah, Patience is dating a cop. I didn’t mention it earlier because it’s not that important.
The robbery and her CG-scampering inspires Patience to return to Ophelia. She gets a crash course on Catwomen and a retread of the credit sequence. Told you it would be back. Basically, the idea is that women all have the good/bad dichotomy in them and this just feels weird and sexist. So it fits right in, is what I’m trying to say.
Now in her full Catwoman outfit, while terrible music plays and the camera leers at her butt, she’s off to get some revenge! She breaks into the warehouse, beats up a goon, but then gets caught with the corpse of a scientist. It’s obvious he was killed before she showed up, but now the world thinks she’s a murderer.
So she ends up making a truce with Laurel who’s being all nice all of a sudden. Except she’s not. It’s a total set up to frame Patience for killing George (who has been already been shot). The gun is also the one that killed that scientist too, and Laurel added some clawmarks to complete the picture. This is all so that beauty cream gets to the market on time. Yeah, those are the stakes we’re looking at. Patience escapes (on the way out she pauses to look at herself in the mirror, and her expression is like, “I left the house wearing what?”), but Tom is waiting at her apartment and arrests her. In the interrogation, Patience spills everything.
Patience gets out of jail pretty easily — she literally just walks out between the bars — teleports once because why the fuck not, then carjacks a guy. Meanwhile Tom confronts Laurel about killing her husband. Laurel just shoots him, and it’s clear Tom didn’t think this through.
Patience shows up in full costume and fights Laurel. I should mention that, Laurel is super tough now because of that anti-aging cream. The movie barely cared about establishing it, so why should I? Also, her powers come from lotion. I don’t even know, guys. I just write what they do and a little part of me dies.
Patience drops Laurel out a window, then dumps Tom. She wants to be good and bad and Catwoman. And CGI, I guess.
Life-Changing Subtext: All women are bi-polar, and the most important thing in their lives is skin cream.
Defining Quote: Laurel: “Game over!” Patience: “Guess what? It’s overtime!” This is the culmination of the film’s bizarre flirtation with sports. It doesn’t really make any sense as an exchange between the two of them but it’s framed as the line of the movie. But you know, people do say that. It’s a thing that’s said. Thankfully, it’s only the second-dumbest thing Berry has uttered in a superhero movie.
Standout Performance: Alex Borstein plays Patience’s oversexed friend Sally, and she really rips into it. To her credit, Borstein is utterly without shame and will attempt to sell even the most underwritten dialogue she’s given. Basically, when some screenwriter thinks it’s hilarious when non-models like sex, but also has no idea how a woman might reasonably express human emotion, you end up with Sally.
What’s Wrong: Catwoman is one of the easiest comic book characters to get right. She’s basically a distaff Indiana Jones: she’s a cat burglar, she uses a whip, she’s all about adventures, and she’s extremely attractive. For whatever reason, though, studio executives see “cat” in her name and promptly go fucking insane. They think she has to act like a cat: lapping milk, playing with catnip, freaking out in the rain, and so on. This would be like making a Batman movie where he screams in a high-pitched voice and shits on his enemies.
Flash of Competence: While on a date with Tom at an outdoor carnival, Patience saves a little boy from falling off a broken ferris wheel. This officially makes her more heroic than the Man of Steel.
Best Scenes: Tom Lone’s biggest problem is that he’s an idiot. He notices that the “sorry” on the coffee cup matches the “sorry” on the bag of returned jewels, but instead of using that as a clue, he goes to a handwriting guy. This scene only serves to have the handwriting guy be like, “Oh yeah, these are two totally different women. Based on these letters, I can totally analyze their personalities.” He doesn’t then point out that handwriting analysis is total bullshit. He does imply a catfight though, because feminism.
Tom’s idiocy continues. After having sex with Patience (oh yeah, terrible sex scene despite the fact that a Halle Berry/Benjamin Bratt sex scene has to be sex scene easy mode), he finds one of Catwoman’s diamond claws on the floor. He’s like “hmm…” and instead of making the reasonable conclusion that Patience is Catwoman, he has them analyze the lipstick stain Catwoman left on his cheek vs. a picture of Patience’s lips. No one at any point raises a hand as is like, “Guys? Are we seriously doing this?”
The whole time she’s Catwoman, this awful music plays, sounding like Beyonce getting tested for a hernia.
Transcendent Moment: Patience and Tom’s attraction gets consummated in the only logical way it could. I’m sure you can picture it — in a movie about a sexy cat burglar, there’s really only one logical thing that could happen.
I’m talking about sexy basketball.
Of course, right? So she now has super basketball skills, because cats are known for that, and he’s athletic or whatever. For some reason, this involves him flashing abs, her waving her butt around, and finally a dunk from the free throw line that looks like a prelude to mashing pelvises. I wish I were the coach showing this as game film.
Catwoman was an attempt at launching a feminist heroine. It failed on every single point. It’s rare to find a blockbuster this fundamentally misguided yet weirdly devoted to its madness.