With The Dark Knight Rises concluding Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, many critics have rightly been singing the praises of Anne Hathaway’s portrayal as Selina Kyle, the Catwoman; a dark, realistic portrayal more in the tone of Frank Miller’s iteration of the character. Of course there are suggestions of a spin-off movie, which made me think back to 2004, when, twelve years after Batman Returns (and perhaps, ironically one year before Batman Begins), there was finally a Catwoman film, a quasi-spin-off to Tim Burton’s vision of the DC Comics world.
Now, some might say this is a easy target; it gathered a 10% score on Rooen Tomatoes, and received seven Razzie nominations and won four. To Halle Berry’s credit, she turned up in person to collect hers, and of the film has this to say – “First of all, I want to thank Warner Brothers. Thank you for putting me in a piece of shit, god-awful movie… It was just what my career needed.”
That might be a bit harsh on the big WB; she did after all agree to do it, and presumably had read the script, which is a mightily flawed attempt to recreate the character Michelle Pfeiffer owned. Why they never made Selina Kyle the protagonist is beyond me, as it then forces the writers, four in all – Theresa Rebeck (story), John Brancato (story and screenplay), Michael Ferris (story and screenplay) and John Rogers (screenplay) – to invent a bizarre plot involving a mystical, immortal Egyptian cat that imbues chosen women with the powers of a cat.
However, much of the script’s main plot points are uninspiringly stolen from the film’s predecessor, Batman Returns. Catwoman dies to protect a corporate secret she has unwittingly uncovered. Both characters, before they are granted their powers, are shy, clumsy, and undergo a complete transformation. Both are armed with a whip (because it’s sexy).While Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle flipped back and forth between the two as she struggled with her new identity, Berry’s Patience Phillips goes from one extreme to the other, and becomes a caricature of female empowerment.
Of course that is the point. The main plot of the film, dealing with a new beauty product that actually scars and Sharon Stone’s megalomaniac character worried about her looks, are all somewhat misconstrued attempts to jump on the Girl Power bandwagon, but there is little pro-feminism or female empowerment here. The ultimate antagonist is revealed to be Stone and not her misogynistic husband. Patience does nothing to earn her powers, nor does she truly become a hero; while she stops the dangerous beauty product from being released, most of the film just sees her prancing around looking for vengeance. There would not be much of a film though, so she also has amnesia about the incident, leaving her to fool around in a comedic, cheesy style (hissing at dogs, licking catnip) as she discovers her abilities and their source before the vengeance plotline returns.
But let’s turn our attentions away from the paper thin characters and to the structure of the script. As well as the terrible device of selective memory loss, the writers rely an awful lot on coincidence, particularly with the romantic subplot which feels completely forced. First Benjamin Bratt’s Detective Tom Lone is passing Halle Berry’s apartment just as she steps outside to try and rescue a cat that isn’t even hers, and ends up saving her. Then he is handed the Catwoman robbery, a robbery that took place inside a store Patience had passed earlier and returned to steal some jewels, only to find she wasn’t the first thief on the scene. Then on a date together they are on a ferris wheel which malfunctions and nearly kills them.
But let’s step back to the cat being rescued. This is the cat with magical powers, but we don’t know that yet. All we know is Patience is risking her life to maybe save a stray cat that has been stuck on a windowsill for about ten seconds. So not stuck at all. Patience has in no way been defined as a cat or animal lover either, so it seems completely ridiculous. It later transpires that the cat, Midnight, had deliberately made it look like he was stuck to test Patience and see if she was worthy of his gift to her (because he was aware of her impending fate of death). The writer’s could have made her a cta lover. It could have been her cat, a stray she had rescued. The cat could have been stuck for longer, like a day. All these would have been simple and plausible corrections that would make this important plot point stick out like a sore thumb. The rest of the film does not really matter; if there are flaws in your foundation, anything build on top will fall apart.
There are plenty of unanswerable here; like why after Catwoman crashes the party does she feel the need to cut her hair and dress in leather? It makes sense in Batman Returns because Selina Kyle is playing off the costume of Batman. Here, not so much. Tom Lone has suspicions Patience is Catwoman for what seems like half an hour before he confronts her. And how does Halle Berry squeeze through the bars of a prison with those massive boobs of hers?
I jest, but in all seriousness, let’s see if we could improve on what was set before them. The idea was simple enough; to make a Catwoman film without Batman, but not without Selina Kyle. It had been over a decade since Michelle Pfeiffer played the character, so why not simply recast? Anne Hathaway has shown that it is more than possible. So for this retrospective rewrite, let us assume we are allowed to use the character of Selina Kyle. It does not have to be a direct sequel to Batman Returns; in fact we could use one of the many storylines from the comics (The Dark Knight Rises borrows from two – Selina’s Big Score and Relentless). It also means we can use DC Comic settings like Gotham City (Catwoman is very vague in its setting). However, since Ed Brubaker’s Relentless was written after 2004’s Catwoman, let’s go with Selina’s Big Score for inspiration, although it could probably use a better subtitle. The globe trotting script would see the film as more of a superhero film fused with action from the Bourne series.
CATWOMAN: THE SCORE – ALTERNATIVE STORYLINE
OPEN ON: A rare artefact, the Cup of Hassan, held in a private collection in Morroco, which is swiftly stolen by Selina Kyle, the international thief known as the Catwoman. However, her exit is not as stealthy as she would have liked, leading to a Bourne-style chase through the streets and rooftops. Selina, while agile and athletic, is not in any way super-powered.
She evades those chasing her and meets her buyer. However, the Cup proves to be a fake, and she is accused of trying to pull a double cross. Barely escaping the meeting with her nine lives, Selina decides she is burned, and flees back to her home, Gotham City.
She arrives to find Gotham back in the hands of the crime bosses. The Batman has not been sighted in over a year, leading many to speculate he is dead. Selina makes her way to a pawn shop owned by Leonard “Swifty” Burgess, where she left in his possession a fall-back box with some cash and keys to an apartment. Swifty says he thought she was running with The Bat. Selina says that was another life. Swifty asks if she is looking for work. Selina says she might be. Swifty says he will organise a meeting she may be interested in. He wants a finder’s fee.
Selina reaches her ‘safehouse,’ but is surprised by Detective Harvey Bullock, a cop who walks the bad side of the fence. He threatens Selina, saying he clocked her coming off the docks. They have history, and he wants revenge. He tries to arrest her, but she escapes with her stuff, and finds a hotel room instead.
The next day she meets with Swifty, and tells him about Bullock. Swifty reveals Bullock was the laughing stock for letting her escape his custody. She says he should have locked the door. Swifty jokes that this would still not have held her.
Swifty introduces Chantel to Selina, who she learns is the mistress of crime boss Carmine Falcone. As soon as Selina hears this, she threatens to leave, thinking Swifty insane for targeting Gotham’s biggest crime boss, but Chantel begs Selina. Chantel has a daughter, and she wants a different life for her. Selina says she should not have got into bed with Falcone, but Chantel reveals a harsh life on the streets as a prostitute.
We glean that Selina thinks Swifty is manipulating her, as this sounds like her own past. Swifty says that it is merely a coincidence, but asks whatever happened to Selina’s “pimp daddy.” Selina says Stark was never her pimp; they were partners. Swifty suggests he would be a good fit for this job, and knows Stark is in Florida. Selina says Stark will never do it, that they ended things on “bad terms.” Swifty jokingly asks if there is anyone she has left on good terms.
Chantel reveals that the Falcone family use a train to move money between Gotham over the Canadian border into Montreal in exchange for Asian Heroin from a dealer named Kong.
Selina says she has to learn more about the job. Chantel offers to help, but Selina does not want to endanger her any further, and will do it herself. Selina infiltrates Falcone’s main place of business, a nightclub. However, she is spotted by Falcone’s main man, La Perier, but escapes unharmed. La Perier tells Carmine Falcone, who in turn puts a hired thug named Slam Bradley on the road to kill her. Carmine wonders what she was looking for, or who, noticing Chantel is acting odd.
With the information, Selina thinks the job is do-able, but Swifty is right, it will take a team, and Stark is a good fit. She ventures down to Florida, and finds Stark. He is angry because she left him high and dry after a diamond heist, taking the jewels and leaving him to be caught. She says he got away. Stark says barely. He is not interested in the job, despite Selina putting on her charm.
Before she leaves Florida, Selina is attacked by Slam Bradley, having followed her from Gotham. However, she is rescued by Stark, and the pair get away, leaving Slam injured. Stark wants to kill him, but Selina says he will get a worse punishment when he returns to Falcone empty handed.
Selina and Stark go over the score, trying to figure out how to do it right. Stark recommends a man simply known as Jeff, and they go to Vegas to meet him.
Meanwhile, Slam Bradley returns empty handed to Gotham. He thinks of running or hiding, but La Perier finds him, takes him to Falcone. Slam Bradley is shocked to see Carmine beating up on Chantel, who is tied to a chair and pouring blood. Chantel comes clean, and reveals she told Catwoman about the money train. Slam wants to help Chantel, but before he can do so, Carmine kills her, then orders La Perier and Slam to dispose of the body. While doing so, Slam realises La Perier is going to kill him as well. He fights with La Perier, and while wounded, manages to escape. La Perier shouts after him that if he shows his face in Gotham again he’ll finish the job.
In Vegas, Selina and Stark meet Jeff, who Stark believes can figure a way to get on the train. They will have to ride the route. Selina says they cannot risk going back to Gotham, but can ride from Montreal into America and then get off before Gotham.
The trio get fake documents and enter Canada, and Selina scouts out the heroin factory owned by Kong.
The trio board a train from Montreal. On the train, Selina is accosted by Slam Bradley. She fights him, but he says he is there to help. Slam explains to them that Chantel is dead, that Carmine knows what they plan to do. While Stark wishes to back out, Selina is now more determined than ever. Stark says Carmine will stop the shipment, but Selina doubts that; he needs the supply, he can’t afford to delay. She thinks he will move the date up, so they have to be ready soon. Stark says it’s one less cut, but Selina insists that Chantel’s share go to her young daughter. Slam also wants in on the job. “This just keeps getting better and better,” says Stark.
They disembark the train in Civic City, and ask Jeff if it is doable. He says maybe, but there are no points where they could board as the train never slows. Selina asks if they could slow it down, but Stark rules this out, it would draw too much attention. Slam suggests driving a vehicle alongside. Jeff had a similar idea, but there was nowhere along the route that they could do this. Selina asks how they do it then. Jeff smiles a zany smile, says we’ll have to steal some stuff.
They steal some equipment from a military base near Vegas. From this, Jeff builds a rocket car that runs on rail tracks, fuelled by missiles they have stolen. Their first attempt blows up. Jeff assures them it will work.
They learn the train is leaving two days early, and rush with the equipment to rendezvous with the train. They manage to get on board, but find it heavily manned. With cat-like agility Selina and Stark manage to get to the money, by using Slam as a diversion (possibly with a helicopter). Selina and Stark wait until the train crosses a long bridge, and then wrap the money in waterproof bags and toss it over, where Swifty and Jeff are waiting with a boat. The duo jump from the train into the water.
However, La Perier is a step ahead of them, and is on the boat. He kills Jeff and Swifty, then confronts Stark and Selina when they get on board with the money. Stark dies so Selina can escape. She swims to the bank with his body, and he dies in her arms as La Perier sails off with the cash, with which he is going to make a power play against the Falcone family.
Slam lands with the helicopter after Stark has died. They have one bag of money, not a lot but Slam says they should divide it between two and go their separate ways. Selina wants revenge, but Slam just wants to stay alive, and leaves.
Selina returns to Gotham, worse than ever, as La Perier challenges Falcone’s hold on the city’s organised crime. She engineers a meeting between the two to negotiate, but both realise they have been played when Selina appears. It is now revealed that Carmine Falcone is Selina’s father; a bastard offspring from a former mistress. Selina says she knows where the money is, and will give it to Falcone if he kills La Perier. La Perier escapes (we later learn, helped by Selina), and leads her to the money. She then confronts him, but he almost kills her, if not for the timely intervention of Slam Bradley, who is mortally wounded as he kills La Perier. Slam tells her to give his half to Chantel’s daughter.
Selina shows Carmine where the money and heroin is, but the police intervene, arresting them all. Selina reveals to Carmine that she called the police, vengeance for her mother and Chantel. The police are led by Harvey Bullock, who detains Selina, and thanks her for the tip, but he is still going to arrest her. However, she once again escapes his grasp.
Selina visit’s Chantel’s daughter, being looked after by her grandmother. She gives her half the money she managed to procure.
As she leaves the house, a black car pulls up, and Alfred Pennyworth steps out from the driver’s side. “Mr. Wayne would like to see you Miss Kyle,” he says. “Of course he does,” Selina smiles, and gets in the car.