Questions raised by Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises

What kind of Catwoman did Anne Hathaway turn out to be in Christopher Nolan's final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises?

“I am Catwoman: hear me… make you question things, a bit”

Some confusing events can only be fully dealt with and understood with time. And so, three years later, it finally feels safe to look back at Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, and some of the questions you may have found yourself pondering in the cinema at the time.

Before going in and finding your seat, the questions were along the lines of: can Anne Hathaway pull this off? Will her performance stop the recurring nightmares about Halle Berry’s attempt? How will this film even work without the Joker? You got your answers on those – the nightmares will never stop – but here are some Qs we’re still struggling with…

Who is Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises? Is this a feral street cat or a spoilt house kitty?

The “I’m a worthy adversary”, or “I just took a crap in your slippers” look – you decide

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Known as The Cat, Princess of Plunders and The Empress of the Underworld, Catwoman has had many names and (9ish?) lives. A jewel thief, amnesiac air stewardess, pet shop owner, dominatrix, madam, and staunch supporter of animal rights number in her many incarnations, so each screen Catwoman has to draw her own firm line in the kitty litter to show her audience exactly who she is and what she’s all about in Gotham. Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Merriweather gave seduction on TV, Michelle Pfeiffer was nutty as well as tough in Batman Returns, and the Batman: Arkham City programmers brought boobs. Much boobs.

Which version of Selina Kyle do we meet in The Dark Knight Rises?

The evidence: We’ve got the jewellery snatcher in her thievery of the Wayne pearls… but turns out she really just wanted Bruce’s fingerprints. There are signs she may be a social justice campaigner in her spare time with the talk of class difference and inequality during a dance at the ball mid-film… but she kicked a walking stick away from a disabled Bruce Wayne at the start, so this isn’t someone with much compassion for the needy and helpless. Her protection of a friend from an angry john echoes Frank Miller’s dominatrix-sex worker version of Batman: Year One, but her selection of gadgets take us back again to criminal mastermind/thief. Hmm, we’re out.

Then there are her interactions with Bruce, which are less flirtatious than they are dead-eyed sarcastic, yet she’s off in Italy with him at the end of the film in what looks to be a long-term relationship powered by grappa and bad purple shirts.

The answer to “who is this Catwoman?” by the end of the movie is “…”

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Where’s her gritty Nolan-era makeover?

What makes Nolan’s vision of Gotham so different to the gothic Tim Burton realm and fluorescent budget-burning Joel Schumacher locale is its firm placement in a world not too dissimilar to ours. Batman doesn’t create his own gadgets all by his lonesome in the Batcave, but has Lucius Fox and the Wayne Enterprises R & D department to do it for him. Plus his costume isn’t moulded rubber, but army-issue Kevlar spray-painted black to merge into the shadows.

Nolan-Gotham is so similar to our streets, that you could even act out The Dark Knight Joker’s chase of Harvey Dent in a truck under the City of Chicago – if you have friends in the police force willing to lend a hand, a rocket launcher, and can avoid all the delivery and garbage trucks that the underground tunnel was built for, because that’s where the scene was filmed – out here, with us.

To go with the realism, every villain is made-under to fit in. The Joker’s outlandish make-up is simply ‘war paint’ hastily applied every morning, white smears left on his hands and under his nails. He might have picked up a can of that green spray-in hair stuff you can get at Claire’s Accessories – Gotham probably has one of those on the way to Arkham. For Selina Kyle to fit in here with Nolan’s villains, she’d need a practical Catwoman costume to be pulled out of the wardrobe and from the comics. Perhaps her 2002 bulky night goggles, a jumpsuit with room to manoeuvre and no fear of splitting fabric, sturdy flat boots, and hair pulled back and away from her eyes for hasty getaways and gymnastic jumping from roof tops.

Oh.

The real question here is probably ‘why does she look so much like the 1960s TV show Catwoman?’ The glossy long hair, the lurex-looking tight suit and low slung, hip accentuating belt is pure Julie Newmar glamour-puss Catwoman. And if you saw her stalking jewellery shops and crime scenes, you’d be sure to notice. Hatha-Catwoman looks like she strolled into the wrong Gotham, and should probably stroll back out again before she gets into a fight with punches rather than dynamic posing. Come to think of it…

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Where’s her survival instinct?

Crime drama viewers know that in Light Entertainment Land, the police can track a person from DNA left at crime scenes in approximately three seconds of an actor pretending they can touch-type (and that computers work that way). Leaving your hair at the scene, no matter how well combed and conditioned, is not a good idea, but in The Dark Knight Rises, Catwoman makes sure to leave hers hanging loose before heading out to an important job. No wonder Bruce can pull up numerous police files on her exploits so quickly – the GCPD know everywhere she’s been for the last ten years from the trail of her tresses.

Along with the questionable hairstyle choice, there’s her magic heel level changing boots. Metal six-inch high heels can break windows and cut ropes in this film, and are a brave choice for running, kicking and climbing ladders. But heels that magically retract at random points during interactions with angry heavies – “It’s a good job I’m not wearing those heels I had on in the previous frame” – make a person paying attention wonder why she didn’t just invest in some thick-soled sensibles in the first place.

Why does Catwoman control the Batpod with her backside?

Catwoman has had her paws on a vast armoury of weapons during all eras of her criminal career, including her Cat-apult, her Catarang, the Kitty Car, not to mention her whip. She’s always tech-savvy. She’d be able to get your iPod to work with your Windows devices, no problem.

So when Catwoman gets on the Batpod to help Batman free Gotham from Bane and Talia’s machinations in the third act of The Dark Knight Rises, you can feel sure she’ll know how to aim the thing and fire. What you probably couldn’t have predicted was that she’d use her buttocks to do that.

Catwoman didn’t have time for a lesson on how the thing worked with all the nuclear bomb/police being trapped under the City/Super Bowl Season ruined related issues that’d been going on, but at no point would Batman have advised “flex your back and hike your derriere up before pressing the ‘LOITER. LOITER. INTIMIDATE’ button to blow up the cars. It’s just how Lucius programmed the Batpod to work. *shrug*”

And she’d have been better popping into that Claire’s Accessories located on the way to Arkham to pick up a black satin scrunchie before going into a controlled slide on the Batpod. A few inches closer to the tarmac and that hair-cape would’ve been ripped off her head and into the spokes, leaving her bonce looking less fluffy Persian kitty and more scrotal-esque Ukrainian Levkoy.

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Why wasn’t she played by Michelle Pfeiffer again?

Just as Jack Nicholson wondered why he hadn’t got the call to reprise his role when Heath Ledger was announced as the Joker, perhaps you were one of the people who asked ‘why didn’t they call Michelle?’ when Anne Hathaway was locked in for Catwoman. The confusion of one actor straddling two different versions of Gotham would be messy, perhaps a step too far for the suspension of disbelief thing. But take a moment to remember the good times we had with Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle back in 1992.

Look beyond the amazing hand-stitched character-led costume design for Catwoman in Batman Returns (difficult), past Pfeiffer’s low-pitched growling vocal delivery and gleeful approach to violence (delicious), and take in her dialogue. It’s like reading bell hooks or Gloria Steinem – “You make it so easy, don’t you? Always waiting for some Batman to save you. I am Catwoman. Hear me roar”. Well, kind of like hooks and Steinem. Just condensed and comic-booky.

[related article: The Evolution of Batman Returns]

Michelle’s Catwoman was a feminist Catwoman, lampshading the ‘Women in Refrigerators’ trope – “seems like every woman you try to save ends up dead…” – and bypassing it when she lives to fight another day, a little bedraggled, but nothing that a saucer of milk and a quick tongue bath couldn’t fix. After experiencing that cat, it’s hard to go back.

Finally: why isn’t The Dark Knight Rises’ Catwoman played by Cher?

This might be a question no one else has asked. Apart from Cher. But hear out why it’s worth asking. Okay, we don’t have a good reason for this – just that those were the rumours flying around before the casting for the main characters was confirmed, and it could have been the strangest and most wonderful thing ever.

Or maybe all these Catwoman-questions have left us even more confused that we thought…

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