Catwoman (2004), and Elektra (2005)

It’s going to be hard, perhaps, to claim that this, from 2004:

or this, from 2005:

are underrated things.  And yet….

Today’s challenge: write a thousand or so words on how the multiple Razzie-winning 2004 Catwoman film isn’t actually that bad, remembering that any gags about how the end titles include a credit for “Whip Coach” are outlawed…

Not really. But, we might wonder, why is it that, when, in these times when superhero films bestride the world like vast money-making machines, so few are about female heroes, and those that are (from Supergirl onwards) tend to be rather derided.

The prime example, of course, is the aforementioned Halle Berry-starring Catwoman, directed by the absurdly appellated Pitof, to which, I guess, the only acceptable response is, “Pit of what?” (I must admit, I initially thought his name was “Pitou”, which would have been much better, as it leads to a “Bless you!” joke.)

Anyway. Interzone’s famous film critic Nick Lowe once suggested that, in films with more than one (or one team of) credited writer(s), it’s fun (bearing in mind the useful rule of thumb that the number of credited writers is often only the cube root of the number actually involved) to try and spot the bones of previous drafts peeping through the carcass of what eventually makes it to screen.

Oddly enough, though, the moment in Catwoman that most clearly gives a whiff of the film that might have been is the opening titles. A montage of cats and women through history, starting in Egyptian times with Mau cats and the goddess Bast, and moving through time to witches, and thence right through to modern suggestions of the comic-book Catwoman character, suggest a suitably epic, rich, and mythic background, and genuinely make one look forward to what might follow…

Alas. As is usual with superhero films, there then follows an interminable and soul-destroying origin/background story (though Catwoman is no worse than any other superhero film in this regard, it’s 20 minutes before Patience “dies” and becomes Catwoman, and the traditional “But – what does any of this have to do with me?” line doesn’t occur until, so help me, nearly 50 minutes have passed.) What’s wrong, though, is not the slowness, which seems to be de rigueur for initial films in superhero franchises, but the tone: the backstory here has to do with the fact that an evil corporation is planning to release an anti-aging beauty cream that is toxic. Now, this might be okay in something like Erin Brockovich; but having tantalized the audience with the prospect of a suitably mythic and epic story, and that the heroine’s adversaries will similarly turn out to be epic, and mythic, and interesting, and battle with her for the future of the world, the villains of the piece actually turn out to be business people preying on the propensity of idiotic women to purchase expensive creams that will allegedly make them appear younger. It’s hard to express how dull and ugly such a story is, and the excuse that it ties in with the film being about “accepting who you are” and “female empowerment” won’t wash either: at one point a policeman, asked whether his wife would crawl out onto a ledge far above the street to rescue a cat, says: “Only if the cat was carrying a pizza.” I don’t want to come over all PC and moralistic here, but leaving aside any questions of whether or not this is funny (it isn’t), it’s so tonally out of place with any guess as to what the film is trying to be, that it’s genuinely hard to guess why no-one thought to say, “Actually, hang on a minute…”

It’s a shame. The CGI Catwoman is pretty good, as these things go (certainly no worse that the CGI Spiderman or anything in the Matrix films [aside for another post, if I can ever bring myself to watch them again: The Matrix films are rubbish of the highest order, and the most over-rated things ever. Fact!]) Too, Halle Berry is as good as anyone could be with this and could have been the definitive Catwoman with better material; and Sharon Stone would have been a great supervillain if the script had written her character as such, as opposed to a colossally uninteresting businesswoman. (There is, though, an enjoyable moment when Stone says to Halle Berry, “Take my phone,” and Berry picks it up and stuffs it down the front of her trousers. Captain Subtext hasn’t been so busy since Xena: Warrior Princess finished.)

Ultimately, though, you have to say the target has been missed if the most memorable moment (as is the case here) is a scene in which Catwoman escapes from jail by squeezing herself through the bars of her cell in a cat-like manner, and, purely because of the way the scene is edited, at the crucial moment the viewer thinks, “Alas! She’s not going to make it as her bottom won’t fit through…”

On the converse side of the bullpen, 2005’s Elektra, directed by the much more sensibly named Rob Bowman, and a spin-off from the vastly underrated Daredevil, rather than tantalize the audience with what might have been, competently does (to coin a cliché, and while by no means equaling Frank Millar’s comics) exactly what it says on the tin…

Starring the also more or less perfectly cast Jennifer Garner (and ER’s latest Dr Sex Goran Visnjic) there is, as we’d expect by now, a fair amount of tedious background to be got in, but, compared with the first half-hour of Catwoman, this is woven in a lot less obtrusively (let us pass over, for now, any possible similarities between this film’s “The Treasure” and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Key”), and the bad guys (though they ultimately end up being dispatched in a somewhat deux ex machina fashion) are at least suitably mythic…

Equally, the otherworldly and odd way Elektra has of moving is rather better rendered than the similar effect in Catwoman: and this is not merely a matter of saying “boo!” to the audience (witness the way that Batman scribe David Goyer’s film The Unborn does this without ever actually being particularly marvellous.)

Ultimately though, both films end up being, a trifle yawningly, about “finding yourself” and thus (?) saying goodbye to your current potential boyfriend. Argh. Both creations deserve better…

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Posted on October 8, 2012, in REVIEWS, UNDERRATED THINGS. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. mrmarkblackmore

    You raise a fair point about girls in superhero films. These examples are irredeemable, despite your brave efforts, but more recently Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in Avengers and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman in Dark Knight Rises were quite well received. The winner, of course, is Elastigirl in The Incredibles. One day perhaps we might even get a good superhero movie with a woman as the lead! No, just kidding.

  2. Yes, I suspect you’re right that my tagging these “Underrated Things” is less defensible than doing so with Book of Shadows etc….And yet, and yet….(Actually, I should have done either Daredevil or, especially, the second Fantastic Four film, as underrated superhero films. Heigh ho.)

    I’ve yet to watch The Avengers or T. D. K. Rises, but you’re quite right of course about The Incredibles, which is probably the best superhero film ever.

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