Who is Catwoman? In the Batman Comics, she’s a femme fatal, wielding a whip, always changing allegiances, yet always flirting with her romantic interest that would otherwise be her nemesis. In the media, she represents various forms of the femme fatal as an archetype, changing to fit the times.
In the Adam West incarnation of Batman, Julie Newmar played the character for camp, with the mod posturing of Emma Peel and the allure of Ava Gardner. Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of the character, in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, Catwoman is clad in gothic BDSM wares, navigating rooftops with the grace of a gymnast, all the while playing her character for the ultimate sex appeal. Today, in Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway is a different kind of Catwoman all together. Not once in the course of the film does she even go by the name Catwoman. Her source material is as much from American Film Noir as it is from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Catwoman is a femme fatal by necessity, a necessity that casts her apart from the previous incarnations of the archetype; she’s poor and living in a weak economy like our own. For the first time, Catwoman is a character whose roots are immediately relatable for the audience, and therefore so much more believable.
This artificial “reality” is the defining characteristic of Nolan’s Batman films. Nolan throws out a strict allegiance between his film narrative and the comics for a believability that, ironically, had been so in vogue during the mid-eighties at DC Comics. Nolan positions his films to address the question of “what makes a superhero?” as opposed to simply regurgitating an already proven marketable comic or character. In this, his films are nothing like the comics, and exactly like the comics. His films, in posing this question and attempting to answer it, hit at the heart of the success of Batman as a character and entity in the American conscious. Without the separation of “film” Batman from the comics, Nolan wouldn’t be able to convey the principal points that define the character. Batman is a hurt, obsessive outsider working very hard to save his beloved city and redeem himself. In all the other incarnations of Batman on film perhaps only two or three of these concepts were displayed in the depiction of Batman. But Nolan gets them all into his films, thus bringing the idea of Batman in the movies the closest to Batman in the comics as it will ever get.
However, as films, Nolan’s three-part epic is hardly successful. His dialogue is often too on the nose, the plot points are muddled and confusing simply because of the narrative’s scope, and then there’s the terrible execution of foreshadowing in his three films that beats its point into the audience’s heads. It’s a strange paradox that unfortunately veils the successes of the films, trapping them in the genre of blockbuster escapism when conceptually they are so adept at adapting Batman to the screen.
So should we all race out and see Dark Knight Rises? Should we all see what this new Catwoman is all about? I had the privilege of seeing the film at midnight yesterday with a handful of friends. If you go into the theater for the fun and the thrills, it’s going to be worth it. The answer to the questions I pose above is a “yes”. Though Nolan’s final chapter in his Batman saga is flawed, it does manage to be the most sophisticated and rewarding escapist flick on screens this summer.