Nobody admits to liking Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin. Even George Clooney admitted the movie stank, and he played Batman in it. People didn't like the nipples on the costumes, the codpieces, the camp, the pantomime performances.
Christopher Nolan certainly didn't like it. In the published screenplay for Batman Begins, his 2005 reboot of the failed franchise, he sneers at Schumacher's line 'I like your tailor', implying that Alfred the butler had constructed Robin's body-sculpted costume. 'And it's this latex thing, and that's ludicrous. It was not good enough.'
Nolan's watchword was 'realism'. Instead of having Alfred make the Dark Knight's suit, he decided Bruce Wayne would have to order thousands of earpieces from one Asian company and thousands of helmets from another, paying for another shipment if the first bulk buy was too brittle. He wanted Wayne to grind his own shuriken Batarangs, one by one, by hand, and spray-paint his own military armour in matte black. Joker would be a scarred psychopath in 'war paint', rather than the stagey villain of Tim Burton's 1989 movie, or Cesar Romero's avuncular clown from the 1960s TV show. Any brief departure into fantasy, such as the effects of Scarecrow's fear gas, had to be rigorously explained through science. This was a down-and-dirty, hardcore Batman, and it paid off when Nolan's second film, The Dark Knight, was praised alongside not other superhero movies like Hancock and Hellboy, but gangster epics like The Godfather and Heat, and even classical sources like Shakespeare and Greek myth, for its exploration of 'war on terror' dilemmas through the passion play of masked men and larger-than-life vigilantes.
Which all makes it all the more disappointing that the first full-size, high-res images of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman abandon any pretence at realism and treat her as nothing but a stereotypical pin-up, another variant on Lara Croft.
Bruce Wayne's most important secret power is not his strength or intelligence, but his money. He can afford ten thousand cowls from Malaysia because he owns Wayne Industries. He can afford to break one and scrap the rest. He can buy up military prototypes and store them under his mansion.
Selina 'Catwoman' Kyle is, by most comic-book accounts, a far less wealthy citizen of Gotham. She's a jewel thief who steals for the challenge, rather than the financial reward. In Frank Miller's Year One, she's a working girl in the city's toughest red light district. In Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's Dark Victory, she lives in a modest brownstone, not a mansion.
It makes sense that Bruce Wayne can become a one-man army in black armour. It doesn't make sense that Selina Kyle can fashion an equivalent outfit; she'd have to piece together scraps from costume stores and her own wardrobe (one thing Burton's Batman Returns pulled off, with Michelle Pfeiffer as a secretary in a roughly-stitched outfit), not order a skintight, state-of-the-art bodysuit with matching utility belt and mask.
More significantly, it doesn't make sense that Selina Kyle would opt for anything like the get-up Nolan has made her wear. She's a blue-collar thief. She sneaks around the city at night. She races across rooftops. She has to fight, evade, duck and dodge. She's not going to dress like a 1940s fetish model, in figure-hugging black rubber, with bright crimson lipstick and deely-bopper ears, with her hair flowing loose down her back (as a rule, if it makes you look anything like Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy from Schumacher's movie, don't do it).
Above all, she's not going to wear massive, silver stiletto heels. She's just not. We should have said goodbye to this kind of cheesecake superheroine in the Seventies. It's not interesting, it's not imaginative, and arguably it's not even sexy. It might attract more teenage boys to Batman, but it's going to just confirm to girls and women - and a lot of men - that comics have never really grown up out of adolescence.
Of course, it's ridiculous to argue about the 'realism' of a story where a man dresses as a bat and a woman dresses as a cat. Batman has been many things over his seventy-three year career, including camp, serious, ludicrous and cool. Catwoman has also taken many forms, including a full-face fluffy cat mask and a range of impractical fashions.
But Nolan isn't making his Dark Knight wear the soft grey Adam West suit of the Sixties, or the 1990s costume with the codpiece and nipples. He's sticking to his watchword of 'realism' when it comes to Christian Bale, and abandoning it when he chooses a costume for Anne Hathaway. He's not making Bale dress like George Clooney -- but he's making Hathaway look a lot like Alicia Silverstone's Batgirl.
Christopher Nolan succeeded in making the Batman franchise relevant and resonant again. But if he doesn't rethink this design decision, he should be forced to run across a few rooftops in high heels, and see how he likes it.
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