Catwoman (Batman Returns)
Michelle Pfeiffer had a legacy to live up to with Catwoman, following the portrayals of Julie Newmar on the television series, and Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether in subsequent films. I still firmly believe of all the Catwoman portrayals, Pfeiffer’s is superior to those of even Halle Berry in her spinoff role, or Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises. She’s dark, she’s playful, she’s feisty, but she’s got depth. What a lady!
Batman Returns is a great Batman film because we get to see two succinct origin stories to two classic supervillains. I suppose classifying Catwoman strictly as a villian might be a misnomer; she definitely is a free agent but has heroic qualities and motivations. In Pfeiffer’s portrayal we see all of that. In the beginning she is the meek and insecure Selina Kyle, undermined assistant to business mogul Max Shreck, who ultimately tries to kill her for knowing too much. From the trauma of that experience, Catwoman was born, a freed woman with the agility and cunning of a feline. First point of order: burn that Shreck mother to the ground. She wreaks havoc on Gotham, but like any woman scorned, she has good reason.
There is still an undertone of sexism broaching this Catwoman, but she handles it with grace and ease. It’s kind of tough to watch this scene now when those two portly security guards simultaneously insult her and sexually harass her, but her response — and whip play — were appropriate to the situation. One could argue that Catwoman is an inherently sexist character, as she primarily serves as a sex symbol and accessory to Bruce Wayne, but Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is a new lady for a new era.