If there’s one thing I can’t stand as an amateur critic, it’s when the Great Internet Consensus passes final judgement on a film and deems it to be Bad, thus relegating it to a long sad life only as the butt of jokes in the pop culture hivemind. Think Star Wars Episode I, the Matrix sequels, or Spiderman 3. For whatever combination of reasons, once a film is decided to be Bad, it becomes simply canon–everyone is supposed to agree that it’s a piece of shit, so no one bothers to explain why.
That was my understanding of another modern classic Bad Movie: Catwoman. This 2004 kind-of-DC film tossed out Selina Kyle’s Catwoman from the comics in favor of a new, actually sort of superpowered character of the same name played by Halle Berry. That’s about all I knew about this film, besides the fact that it is infamous for being possibly the most terrible comic book movie ever made (with a solid 8% on Rotten Tomatoes). Of course I had to check it out someday. So, during a recent light-n-silly movie marathon, I threw it on between a crappy Crusades movie with Nic Cage and an Australian neo-noir with Simon Pegg. After enjoying Nic Cage’s grizzled crusader growling out lines in an accent that no human has ever had, I was ready to laugh and roll my eyes at the notoriously Bad movie Catwoman. So imagine my surprise when it was…fine!
Yes, the script is formulaic. Yes, the CGI is horribly outdated. Yes, the concept is silly (basically Halle is resurrected from death by an immortal Egyptian kitty and has cat powers), but that only seems to be a crime in the DC Universe. I had a surprising amount of fun watching this movie. Halle has fun too switching between a mousy, neurotic overworked artist by day and her man-eater Catwoman persona by night. The appropriately hammy villain is a super model and cosmetics magnate who uses a face cream that makes her skin as hard as marble. Alex Borstein as Halle’s best friend is…there. The puns are as delightfully sweaty. This is a superhero movie of a bygone era, before cinematic universes were invented and everything was high-stakes, and it was enough to have a simple origin and a single villain. It reminded me a bit of the 2002 Spiderman or an early X-Men. It’s not as good as those films for sure, but in that same vein it does just fine.
Really what struck me about Catwoman, though, was just how oddly refreshing it felt in 2016. For better and worse, we live in a world where comic book movies are parts of giant continuous franchises, have global stakes, and tend to be more grounded and serious (even the lighter Marvel films). It felt like a nice change to have one hero with one villain complete one narrative arc in a 90-minute period. On the whole I think we have the best comics movies we’ve ever had today, but Catwoman has things that modern films don’t. After seeing this film, I keep thinking it might actually be much better received if it came out in 2016 (with modern CGI, music, etc.). Think about it: this is a film in which our hero is a black woman, the villain is also a woman, the powerful white dude turns out to be a pawn, and Halle’s love interest is hispanic (Benjamin Bratt). And this film bucks gender convention even more by ending with Halle turning down Bratt in favor of personal self-discovery and female empowerment. What other superhero movie today, when race and gender in film are a much louder conversation, can boast this diversity scorecard?
I won’t tell you that Catwoman is a great movie–that would’ve been a Hidden Gems article. But it’s not that bad. It’s fun. It’s better than Batman v Superman. It’s better than Ant Man. Catwoman well deserves to be saved from the bottom of the Bad Movie garbage bin.