A closer look into Zoë Kravitz’s portrayal of Catwoman.
We certainly live in a time where there are two kinds of people. There are those cursing the universe for yet again another comic book movie, and those willing to throw their money at whatever comes forward. The Batman has stepped up to the plate and quieted naysayers, reminding people why we love these films so much. However, in this one, the Cat steals the show.
Directed by Matt Reeves, the film explores Batman (Robert Pattinson) as he ventures into the underworld of Gotham City while a sadistic killer leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues. As the evidence leads closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans becomes clear, Batman must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit, and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.
Yes, The Batman has beautiful cinematography, engaging fight sequences, and an edge-of-your-seat storyline with a noir flair. But the best part of it all is Catwoman. It’s exciting, seeing a kickass female character survive in a male-driven world. Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) shines throughout the film with her complexity and determination. She is oftentimes reminiscent of the duality we saw in the female characters of Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). There’s a certain freedom to Kravitz’s character, despite her circumstances.
The iconic figure of Selina Kyle has stood for femininity as well as defiance since emerging in the 1940s. In a genre so often overpowered by masculinity, Bill Finger and Bob Kane conjured up a character who brought feminine power to the playing field. Joining Batman’s rogues gallery, the Cat also became a romantic foe for the Bat. That being said, while her main purpose was to draw in more female readers, Catwoman likewise served up a classic slice of the male gaze by portraying the anti-heroine with sex appeal. With her skin-tight clothing and allure, she could be interpreted as a dark fantasy for men, but quickly became a dark fantasy for women as well.
At her center, Catwoman is a Robin Hood figure of sorts, mixed with the sultry appeal of a Billy Wilder femme fatale. Her existence is an act of noncompliance. She takes back what she’s owed and fights for what’s right by doing what’s wrong. A non-committal and morally ambiguous feline fiend determined to play the game by her own rules: this is the true appeal of Catwoman. Kravitz’s version is much more natural and demure; she knows when to blend in the shadows, as her male counterpart does. But her appearance is another that catches the eye.
She is subtle, donning natural claw-like nails and the well-known black suit that, while perfectly fitting, also serves a practical purpose. This Catwoman is never sexualized by the camera for the viewer’s sake, which allows Kravitz to make her mark in the character’s legacy.
The most notable women to slip into Catwoman’s costume and embrace Kyle’s opposing force are Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway, and Halle Berry. Nevertheless, it’s truly a disservice to compare the different iterations of Catwoman. They all exist to serve one purpose, brought forward at the hands of each new creative team. Like many of the caped crusader’s antagonists, she provides a direct foil to Bruce Wayne.
However, while that is the nature of many of the rogues, Kravitz’s portrayal and her character’s narrative are more specific. Reeves’ version of the Cat plays into the more anti-heroine aspect of the iconic comic book figure. Her one goal is to protect the ones she loves–which also alludes to her bisexuality without making it her ultimate character trait. Everything she stands for and fights for pushes Bruce Wayne along in his own journey and makes him question a lot of what he’s come to know, giving us an even more complex Byronic hero.
All their interactions are calculated but never cold. There is a spark to them that Pattinson and Kravitz’s chemistry brings to the surface perfectly. While Bruce Wayne spends his time fueled by anger, it’s as though he doesn’t fully comprehend where that anger is directed. Selina Kyle, on the other hand, knows very well what sparks her fury. Their parallel journeys toward finding peace with the pain inflicted upon them allow each character to give the other more emotional depth, instead of Catwoman existing simply to support Batman as the protagonist. She’s neither a killer nor a villain. She simply wants justice as much as him. She doesn’t exist for spectacle, with extravagant backflips or unconventional style. She simply gets the job done or dies trying.
The Cat and the Bat are both cut from the same cloth of vengeance, but they can never truly be together – something the film plays with throughout its 175-minute runtime. Near the climax, Batman seems to be facing deathly consequences. Considering Pattinson lends a nihilistic approach to his version of the character, the moment Batman is close to death should feel more like coming home than a true ending. Yet, ironically, it becomes one where the tables turn on him emotionally. He doesn’t want to die. Not yet. He wants to help those in danger. And in comes the Cat to save the day.
Their common enemy unites them, but what binds the characters inextricably is their drive for justice. This leads to romance. They could be confusing their desire to make things right with what it is that draws them together. Regardless of their relationship’s exact nature, it’s surely a sight to see.
In the end, Catwoman and Batman are able to save each other from the darkest parts of themselves. It’s not about succumbing to the darkness, but learning to survive within it by creating their own light. This is why, all things considered, there’s a certain tenderness to their dynamic. Despite the grittiness of it all, they’re able to reach a middle ground of vulnerability that emphasizes how multi-layered this version of Catwoman is. She is not a villain, nor is she a woman in love. She is simply a woman brave enough to have hope in a better life for herself. Even if it may take nine tries to get there.