The Dark Knight Rises

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Who is Catwoman?  In the Batman Comics, she’s a femme fatale, wielding a whip, always changing allegiances, yet always flirting with her romantic interest that would otherwise be her nemesis. In the Adam West incarnation of Batman, Julie Newmar played the character for camp, with the mod posturing of Emma Peel and the allure of Ava Gardner.  Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of the character in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) is clad in gothic BDSM wares, navigating rooftops with the grace of a gymnast all the while playing her character for the ultimate sex appeal. In Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises (2012) Anne Hathaway is a different kind of Catwoman all together. 

Not once in the course of the film does she even go by the name Catwoman. The source material is as much American Film Noir as it is Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One.  Catwoman is a femme fatale by necessity, a necessity that casts her apart from the previous incarnations of the archetype; she’s poor and living in a weak economy like our own. For the first time Catwoman is a character whose roots are immediately relatable to most audiences.

This artificial “reality” is the defining characteristic of Nolan’s Batman films. Nolan throws out a strict allegiance between his film narrative and the comics for a believability that, ironically, had been so in vogue during the mid-eighties at DC Comics. Nolan positions his films to address the question of “what makes a superhero?”  In this, his films are nothing like the comics. His films, in posing this question and refusing to answer it hit at the heart of the success of Batman as a character and entity in the American psyche by making Batman something he is not. The Batman is a flexible character; just look at the Legends Of The Dark Knight book and you’ll be convinced. Batman, like Superman or Wonder Woman, is for everybody; he can be gay, he can be young, he can be old, he can be human, he can be an alien, etc. Batman, like the best superheroes, is a synthesis of folk art and mythology.

In making Batman more “real” Nolan discards Batman’s flexibility and creates a serious and brooding incarnation of Ben Edlund’s superhero universe. Everything about Batman and his world must be explained to death, must be so convincingly real that the fantastic is utterly vanquished. Add to that Nolan’s dialogue is often too on the nose, the plot points are muddled and confusing simply because of the narrative’s scope, and then there’s the terrible execution of foreshadowing in his three films that beats its point into the audience’s heads.