As with most things, when you take a second look at something, you notice more about it. Of course, I’m talking about films more often than not, so when I re-watch a film I pick up on certain things that I missed the first, second, third, twelfth time I’ve seen it, especially if I only watch the film once a year. Getting through all my Christmas favourites, ‘Batman Returns’ was next on the list and as much as I love this film, watching it now, there were a few things that didn’t sit well with me and others that just baffled me.
‘Batman Returns’ is one of those rare ‘comic book’ films that doesn’t suffer from too many villains. Being a sequel to Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ (yes I am phrasing it like that), there was pressure to have a great new villain to follow the Joker, what better way than with the Penguin. And Catwoman. And Max Shrek. The latter is obviously not one of the ‘big’ villains of the comic but he is a perfect non costumed villain to add into the mix as they are all connected in some way with a similar goal(s). After the Joker and before The Riddler and Poison Ivy, Penguin and Catwoman are great choices and cast to perfection. They each have their own story, their own agenda and never over crowd a scene. As I said, this is rare to have such a villain heavy film actually be any good.
The Penguin and Max Shrek are the true evil do-ers in the story and each get the end they deserve but Catwoman is the ambiguous almost anti-hero who switches from revenge seeker to damaged damsel not in distress. Her story is very clear, she’s the underestimated downtrodden career woman who doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere. But throw her out of a window and revive her with cats, she’s a whole new person, right? Catwoman is hinted at having 9 lives, like a cat supposedly does, but beyond that, all her skills she reveals when she’s in her costume. But from re-watching this film with a friend who kept saying ‘she’s crazy’ every time Catwoman did something, got me thinking.
Firstly, Selina Kyle was thrown out of a window of high building, luckily her fall was broken by a canvas shutter and so it didn’t kill her, so if she acts a little ‘crazy’ its understandable. The cats reviving her was just to add to the persona or to help her with a persona. Her somewhat manic behaviour when she keeps questioning herself throughout the rest of the film is because, she was always ‘Catwoman’ and it took a traumatic experience to reveal it. Those crazy skills she gets, back flips, whip moves, she always knew how to do all of this. Catwoman is who Selina really is but she’s not a malicious villain. She really only wants Batman out of the way because she wants to be her own hero. Selina only wants revenge on Shrek which again is understandable, he pushed her out of a window. Her constant mind games with herself aren’t really expanded to make room for Penguin on the campaign trail and driving Batman’s car around the city from his caravan. Its an amusing scene but more Catwoman would have been appreciated. Catwoman’s main crime was destroying Shrek’s store before she teamed up with Penguin to frame Batman. She didn’t want to hurt the Ice Princess and seems genuinely upset by her death, showing that she is not really a true villain.
Selina Kyle/Catwoman literally stands alone against all the male characters and is ‘killed’ by Batman, Penguin and Shrek. She even helps Batman in her way at the end. But her mysterious disappearing act at the end of the film isn’t just about her wanting to be left alone, she doesn’t want attention. I know she’s wearing a tight plastic onesie but that in no way means she wants attention. I think she just likes dressing up.
Michelle Pfeiffer is masterful in the role. She steals a scene by eating a bird and licking her costume and smudging her lipstick all over her chin and walks that line between dramatic and cartoonish, much like the other characters but she does it with a style you can’t take away from her. I do want to mention, at any opportunity, that having Christopher Walken in the film automatically makes this Batman film the best. He plays a terrible character but still makes me full of charisma and even upstages Micheal Keaton. I really want to find a gif of him saying ‘yawn’ at Bruce Wayne as its just brilliant. But this film really belongs to Catwoman and Pfeiffer, no matter how much Batman sits in the dark waiting for the signal to pop up.
Another thought I had was that now the world has seen ‘Joker’ and loved or hated it, I think Catwoman would be an excellent candidate for a character study. I also think Michelle Pfeiffer should play her again. I’d like to see what an older Catwoman is doing right now. Just a thought.