I went into The Dark Knight Rises with lowered expectations and came out blown away, both on a grand scale with the plot of this conclusion to Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy, as well as regarding certain characters. Ever since we first saw set photos of Anne Hathaway as Batman’s ally/love interest Catwoman, I’ve been pessimistic about how good she could be in this movie. It didn’t help that the latest iteration of Catwoman in the cultural consciousness was an oddly-proportioned comic book character who’s naked when we meet her and who possibly rapes Batman. Nor the fact that I’ve always found Anne Hathaway more annoying than compelling, and hosting the Oscars took everyone’s regard for her (earned in Rachel Getting Married) down a notch.
However, Anne’s is one of the best performances of the movie: She easily brings the seductive cool to play Catwoman both with and without her mask; is just campy enough to offset Christian Bale‘s gravelly, haunted Batman; and embodies the movie’s “haves vs. have-nots” theme better even than Bane (Tom Hardy) and his common-man’s army.
General consensus is that Nolan has a tendency to “fridge” his female characters—to base his male protagonists’ emotional arcs on the dead girlfriends/wives they’re aching to avenge. Although you have a bit of that with Bruce still mourning Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) eight years later, it should be noted that Selina Kyle is very much not dead. She’s constantly in motion, playing multiple cons where she tricks rich and powerful men out of their money using her looks and her incredible acrobatics. (Interestingly, we don’t get any of the supernatural backstory from the Halle Berry film about Selina dying and getting resurrected by cats or some shit. Nolan’s trilogy seems to be more about the triumph of the human body than any superpowered help.) I’m glad that Anne waited until after shooting TDKR to lose all that weight for Les Miserables, because her curves — i.e., her perfectly average figure — are yet another weapon in her arsenal.
What’s interesting about Anne’s take on the character is that Selina Kyle is virtually the same person with mask on or off. Unlike Bruce Wayne, who has to vacillate between millionaire playboy and vigilante in order to keep people off his scent, Selina doesn’t seem to care if people realize that the young woman in the maid’s uniform flipping off buildings is also the jewel thief in that curve-hugging catsuit. (I’m straight, but wow, I have to agree with my guy friends that she looks hot.)
The age factor provides another layer. I’d say that Selina is meant to be in her mid-to-late twenties, which makes her — and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Gotham PD “hothead” John Blake — the “younguns” of the film, the upstarts who act without hesitation and often get the most effective result. Compared to the hobbling, should-be-retired Bruce Wayne, who’s probably in his late thirties like Bale, she’s young, strong, and passionate about righting these social injustices. But she also hasn’t seen what Bruce has; she was just a kid when The Dark Knight ended eight years ago, probably already thieving but still green.
Most importantly, however, Selina is propelled by her rage. It’s quiet and simmers beneath her lipsticked smirk, but it’s there: This woman has a vendetta against Gotham’s upper class. Part of it is the Robin Hood notion of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, though the “poor” is usually her and her random roommate/protege (Juno Temple). But we also get glimpses of the life she’s trying to erase, a thick file crammed with mugshots and fingerprints. As clearly as she announces herself, it’s in direct contrast to her actual goal of clearing her slate and starting fresh.
It’s this agency and clear motivation that separates Selina Kyle from Nolan’s other female characters. As Tor.com points out,
They’ve tended to be passive and reactive, like Ellen Page in Inception, or Scarlett Johansson in The Prestige, or Katie Holmes’ and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachel Dawes in the first two Batman movies. Selina Kyle is a marked improvement over all of those, with incredibly complex personal motivations, agency over her actions, and one moment I can’t spoil that is, quite simply, one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Yes, Maggie Gyllenhaal went a long way toward making us care about Rachel Dawes, and I was horrified when the Joker blew her up in The Dark Knight. It’s no wonder that that death (dare I say “fridging”?) wrecked Batman and turned Harvey Dent into Two-Face. But consider that Rachel had to be saved in the first place. Part of the fascination with Anne’s performance in TDKR was the scenes where, either as Selina or Catwoman, she would get herself into a near-impossible bind. Like a cat caught behind the bed, she never panics at this self-inflicted trap and instead calmly shimmies her way out. And by “shimmies,” I’m referencing the cool scene mentioned in the Tor.com review. Really, I don’t want to ruin any of the details for you; just go see it!
And sure, she’s a bit campy. Like the above photo, with her “A storm is coming” speech that we’ve seen in the trailers over and over for the last several months, but which works within the scene. Anne’s vamping and cooing — to Bruce, to Batman, to Bane, to the random Gotham gangsters with whom she does business — only enhance the emotional impact of the moments where she loses her grip on her cool. She and Nolan have crafted a compelling Catwoman in whom we Millennials recognize our own frustration and lack of agency. She’s angry (everyone in superhero movies is, apparently), she’s sexy, and she’s self-sufficient. No fridging here, boss.
Photos: Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures