She was the first black woman to win a best actress Oscar, and now she's the first female to star in her own modern superhero movie.
Halle Berry (search), newly single after leaving her cheating hubby, is kicking butt in "Catwoman," doing many of her own stunts and leading the path for women to play the lead in comic-book films.
But critics complain that Berry’s "Catwoman," opening Friday, is over-sexualized, an element they say detracts from the film's girl-power message. They also say she doesn't resemble the DC Comics character of the same name.
"Our readers are enormously skeptical of the film … I sense nothing but hatred from fandom," said Drew "Moriarty" McWeeny, West Coast editor of aintitcoolnews.com, a movie news and gossip Web site. "'Catwoman’ not only has nothing to do with the comic, but the studio [Warner Bros.] is happy to ride the current trend of comic book adaptations."
McWeeny had not seen the film at the time of this interview, but one of his writers gave it a scathing review:
"If you've every fantasized [about] watching Halle Berry hissing and rubbing a sack of catnip all over her supple lips and face in ecstasy, then this pic is for you," the anonymous review reads, panning the script as "not worthy of lining a litter box."
Among McWeeny's many criticisms are Berry's black leather S&M-inspired costume, which is strategically ripped to show off the famous beauty’s bod; her character's name, Patience Philips, which is not the Selina Kyle of the comics; the fact that Berry's character is not a prostitute, as he says Catwoman usually is and the character's unprecedented possession of superpowers.
“Halle Berry's costume is ridiculous … why would somebody climb walls in heels? And the supernatural acting like a cat stuff — none of that is from the comics," he said.
That said, there are some similarities between the comic Catwoman and Berry's character. Selina Kyle was a pushover who was perpetually bossed around by men — so is Patience Philips. Kyle walked both sides of the law, straddling the line between good and evil — so does Philips/Catwoman. Comic Catwoman was a jewel thief — so is Berry's character.
Moreover, "Batman Returns" director Tim Burton (search) also took liberties with his Catwoman (played famously by Michelle Pfeiffer), such as inventing the notion of her being reincarnated by cats, as she is in the Berry movie.
Nevertheless, comic-book fan animosity and unexpected resentment of Berry's revealing costume were two main obstacles filmmakers faced in making "Catwoman," (search) producer Denise Di Novi said in an interview earlier this month with IGN FilmForce.
"We had a real challenge with 'Catwoman' because, as you know, fans of these comics are very into being true to the comics," she said. "The challenge that we had with 'Catwoman' is there are 12 versions of Catwoman ... When we got criticism for the costume being too sexy … I'm sort of like 'Well, is this a bad thing? What's wrong with her being sexy'"?
Di Novi also insists upon the film's feminist message. Indeed, in the movie, Berry switches a diamond ring from her left hand to her right (a trendy symbol of female independence), beats her love interest (Benjamin Bratt) at basketball, stands up to her male boss (Lambert Wilson) and female nemesis (Sharon Stone) and generally kicks butt all around.
"I think the time is right for Catwoman to have her own film. She's such an archetypal character for women and so inspiring, so confident, so independent, so comfortable in her skin and in her sensuality … and for men she's one of the most mysterious, alluring and attractive characters,” Di Novi said at a press conference.
Regardless of critics' swipes at "Catwoman," the trend of playing up female comic-book characters is likely to continue along with the comic-book movie craze. Jennifer Garner (search) will star in next year's "Elektra," playing seen in 2003's "Daredevil." And these films come on the heels of successful female-oriented action movies like "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and "Charlie's Angels."
M. Thomas Inge, author of "Comics as Culture," defended the "Catwoman" producers' decision to update the comic-book character.
"The nature of Catwoman has changed over years anyway. The prostitute thing has been pretty much done away with. Given her changing nature over the years, it's kind of hard to say what her real character is," he said.
Inge also blasted those who would rather see Berry buttoned up.
"Someday we have to come to point where feminism and sexuality are joined again," he said. "There’s no reason why you can't be damned beautiful and be a feminist."