March is a celebration of strong capable women and there are few characters more capable than Catwoman. Created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane premiering in Batman #1 (1940) as a villain, she is one of the most enduring characters in the “Bat” mythology. She has been featured continuously apart from a brief hiatus between September 1954 to November 1966 when her depiction went against the Comics Code Authority. Originally just called “The Cat” she has become more of an antihero than a villain and is probably Batman’s most famous love interest. She is normally depicted wearing a tight black body suit and using a bullwhip as a weapon. She was originally created to be different from the other villains in Batman’s rogue’s gallery. She was meant to be a femme fatale and to add sex appeal to the Batman book, provide a love interest to the main character and to engage batman in a game of wits.
Catwoman has been featured in many television and movie adaptations. I will explore a few of these performances. This is not meant to be a complete list of all the actors that have brought this character to life, merely my thoughts on some of the most notable performances.
In the 1960’s Campy Batman Television series, they built on the sex appeal of the character and the attraction that Bruce Wayne has for the villainess, but taking away the antihero essence of the character. This Catwoman isn’t afraid to kill, attempting to kill Robin on several occasions, including feeding him to tigers. In the series first two seasons the roll was played by Julie Newmar with over the top sexuality and a more subtle use of the cat aspects. The 1966 Batman: The Movie showcases the most notable villains bringing together Catwoman, Joker, Riddler and the Penguin, Catwoman, played by Lee Meriwether in a performance similar to Julie Newmar’s down playing cat aspects, but with several purr-fectly placed feline references. In the third and final season of the series, the roll was taken over by Eartha Kitt. Her sultry voice has the very cat like essence that was needed portray the character. Adding a bit more cat references. The performance is one of my favorites. Just like everything else related to the TV series, this portrayal was way over the top, but this is what makes them so much fun.
The 1992 movie, Batman Returns, puts Michelle Pfeiffer into the body suit. Selina Kyle, the most notable secret identity to the character, is murdered and brought back to life by a clowder of cats. This adds a sense of superpowers to the character. Her costume was sewed together from a slick black rain coat. Going from meek and mild to the sexy and sultry, it highlights the love-hate relationship between Batman and Catwoman. More of an antihero who is set on revenge for her own murder and not just a crazy villain. There is a certain balance that Michelle brought… a certain class to the character. Her sexiness feels more genuine and less of an act, and her cat references had an over the top subtleness that was absolutely amazing. By far, in my opinion, the best portrayal to date in a movie or on TV.
Catwoman (2004) film stars Halle Barry as Patience Phillips, a shy artist, who gets murdered for overhearing the wrong conversation, and like in Batman Returns, is brought back to life. Expanding on how that happened, we find out that the Egyptian Maus are the messengers of Bast, an Egyptian god, and they can choose a woman to give the gift of freedom to. Where Michelle’s character in Batman Begins used normal human agility and acrobatics, Halle’s Patience is given superhuman cat like abilities. There is a nod played to Michelle’s Selina Kyle, when she is seen in a group of photos of past Catwomen who have been given this gift. Batman is never mentioned in the movie, but with including this character, it technically takes place in the same universe. Halle ups the sexuality to almost laughable heights, wearing a leather bikini top and torn leather pants. Unlike the previous portrayals, the sexuality felt more like an act and less natural. The movie’s special effects were clumsy and the plot and script were horrible. The movie is so bad, but is sort of fun in its badness. Sort of like a guilty pleasure. Halle Berry won the Razzie award for Worst Actress, and being able to laugh at herself she actually showed up, with her Oscar from a couple years before to collect her prize. Showing that some Hollywood actors do have a sense of humor. For that fact alone, we have to love Halle for this portrayal.
Anne Hathaway takes over in The Dark Knight Rises, the third movie in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. These movies are more of a “What If” Batman existed in the real world, so this version of Catwoman isn’t feline at all. She is a cat burglar who has special goggles that when flipped up out of the way, give an impression of cat ears. She is known as “The Cat”, heralding back to her original origins. The performance is good and I am a fan of Anne’s, but I am not a fan of Nolan’s take on the characters, except for the outstanding performance by the late Heath Ledger as the Joker. I prefer a bit more “Super” in my superheroes than Nolan wanted. I fully respect these movies as being very well done and performed, just not my cup of tea. The majority of the cat references are stripped of this character, which removed most of what was fun for me to watch.
The latest actress to be donning the cat cowl is Zoe Kravitz in the upcoming The Batman movie with Robert Pattinson as Batman. I am excited to see what Zoe brings to the character and how she will interact with Batman. I also want to give a nod to Camren Bicondova, who played Selina Kyle in Gotham TV series. I did not watch this series, so cannot comment on the performance.
No matter who is playing her, it is always fun watching the slinky and sexy Catwoman on the screen. Whether you enjoy the over the top Eartha, the acrobatic Michelle or the realistic Anne, all of these actresses have proven that a strong, capable woman can be both seductive and powerful and can hold their own against any man or bat!
Catwoman: The Purr-fect adversarie
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