July 31, 2008
I saw it. I liked it. I think it’s about 45 minutes too long…
But, as you would have expected that scenario to play out, my husband, like a little boy in jammies stumbling downstairs on Christmas morning, brought me to one of the first screenings of The Dark Knight in Manhattan.
There were crowds. There were long lines. But the end result was that two satisfied superhero junkies boarded a bus back to New Jersey and had plenty to talk about.
On that bus were a man and a woman talking “Batman.” And yes, almost every cliche was invoked. I said, “Christian Bale is soooooo dreamy!” He said, “Those action sequences were awesome!” I said, “The love triangle was dynamic.” He said, “The three-way chase scene was exciting and funny!”
Not really. But I’ll admit to enjoying the film as one might expect a heterosexual female to: I wanted good looking men in couture to fall all over themselves when vying for the affections of a complicated, heroic female character.
But wait? Christopher Nolan, the director, wouldn’t know a complicated female character if she bit him on the ass. His idea of female depth is upgrading from a sweet and pretty lobotomized actress (Katie Holmes) to a less than beautiful, somewhat quirky and slightly more intelligent one (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Maggie is great, but she needs more to do, more to say before she gets shuffled into the category of “whole characters.”
Come to think of it, Nolan has a history of marginalizing female characters. In Insomnia, he gave us the thoroughly good, lapdog cop Hilary Swank. And, there was also the bland yet mysterious hotel manager Maura Tierney. There was potential for both characters to develop into someone more than a pushover (Swank) or a quixotic shadow (Tierney)…but they didn’t. The same thing goes for the cardboard cutout of Bruce Wayne’s mom we’re given in Batman Begins (I bet you didn’t even notice her).
You start with curiosity, Nolan, and then develop your director’s vision into one that is courageous enough to look women in the face. Like the caped crusader himself, we’re complex…much more so than a miscast Scarlett Johansson’s version of a Cockney vagrant in The Prestige.
Gyllenhaal’s Rachel is definitely more interesting than the previous love interest. But it will take a lot more thought and respect from the filmmakers if The Dark Knight team is to resurrect the franchise for a third installment involving Catwoman: respect for the long and diverse history of this character. She’s been everything from an amnesiac (one who doesn’t know her own identity) to a thief (one who steals herself a new identity). She’s been a vamp, a helpmate and a sensitive lover. Catwoman is an important female figure in this mythology because she’s been able to transcend the role of love interest and become a force of her own in a man’s world.
Historically, Catwoman has represented everything from pent up female aggression to not-so-cleverly disguised anatomical innuendo. Tim Burton managed both extremes with Michelle Pfeiffer in the vulgar 1992 Batman Returns. Pfeiffer’s anti-heroine has an agenda: avenge her own human death at the hands of a sadistic tycoon (Christopher Walken). But she’s also out for a roll in the hay. And the film’s predictable script wouldn’t be complete without the words: Just the pussy I’ve been lookin’ for!
I’ve been thinking about Catwoman for days now. I don’t even like her as she’s existed. But here’s a thought: since the new Batman franchise is rooted in reality (ha!) with a gritty, human drama at its core, why not keep to that standard with the execution of one of the only enduring superhero women? How about if all the cat-themed adornments and leather really stand for something? And Catwoman can have a past that’s as dark and affecting as Batman’s. She can be a villain and a heroine at the same time.
What if Catwoman is a prostitute? Don’t play at being shocked. Her cat ears and rubber tail, her slender physique loosely shrouded by black rubber…all of this spells S.E.X. And sex sells…in Hollywood, in brothels and on the street. Catwoman can then be a real woman, prowling the night looking for prey; first allowing men to prey on her and then subsequently punishing them. Maybe she’s a prostitute from day one…or maybe she’s a woman who was raped or saw a rape in progress and decided to intervene. Whatever her back story, Catwoman has the potential to be both heroine and anti-heroine, good and bad, sexy and chaste. In other words, she can be complicated.
And she can, and should, be sexy. There’s nothing wrong with sexy. Sex is good. I like sex. If they cast Shane from The L Word, they would kill two birds with one stone: Catwoman would appeal sexually to both sexes.
Of course, Nolan probably won’t face any of these suggestions from male studio heads. After all, the next film, like all the others, is designed for and marketed toward men…and The Dark Knight is making everybody rich. Just ask Entertainment Weekly: “The conventional wisdom about superhero movies to be sure, is that they attract teenage male nerds and older male nerds who think they’re still teenage nerds. But a reported 48 percent of The Dark Knight‘s audience was female, and that number probably would have been even higher had so many women not flocked to Mamma Mia!” (“Knight Fever” Aug. 1)
Wait: 48 percent of the audience at The Dark Knight was female? (That’s like the percentage of Democrats who voted for Hillary in the primary, almost half.) According to EW columnist Mark Harris, Hollywood has a history of undervaluing the female reception of movies. This year, Sex and the City was a “surprise” hit for the money men. And so were Waiting to Exhale (1995), The Princess Diaries (2001), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and this past January’s 27 Dresses: all profitable, and all clearly marketed for and received by women. There’s a trend here.
Nobody’s about to fix something that ain’t broke, however. Chris Nolan, should he choose to recreate Catwoman, will probably be allowed to do whatever he wants. And because nobody in Hollywood has picked up on the information that “chic flicks” can be and are lucrative, in addition to the “surprise” female turnout for recent superhero fare, nobody’s about to force the issue.
I’m really part of the problem. I would have gone to see The Dark Knight even if the hubby hadn’t insisted. And whatever they do to Catwoman, I’ll be there to receive her. My money, combined with the cost of admission from the other 47.99 percent of the girls in line to see Batman III, is just as good as any man’s money.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I think Catwoman has potential…and I wouldn’t mind it one bit if she showed us a little more than skin.