Stilettos, Catwoman and The Dark Knight Rises

WARNING: Discussion of The Dark Knight Rises. Don’t think that there are any serious spoilers but the purists may want to give this a miss. There are also serious spoilers for The Dark Knight discussed.

The costumes of female superheroes are often the objects of intense scrutiny from various corners of fandom for various reasons. Anne Hathaway, who will be playing Catwoman in the latest incarnation of the Nolanverse Batman films, stated that “I love the costume because everything has a purpose, nothing is in place for fantasy’s sake, and that’s the case with everything in Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City.” The Hero Complex (spoilers at the source) has stated that in a scene they viewed, Catwoman was ‘navigating the steps with stiletto heels that, on closer inspection, turn out to have serrated edges capable of leaving nasty claw marks in a fight.’

Now, Catwoman is a thief. Whether she is a thief in the Nolanverse isn’t entirely clear, though I see no reason for her not to be. Barring the Batman Returns interpretation, her whole aesthetic relies upon the cat burglar motif and as a thief, what she relies upon most is stealth. By the time she’s been seen or heard, it’s too late. Anybody who has ever worn stiletto heels knows that they are really fucking loud.

And that’s without even talking about how hard it is to run in heels, how easy it is to turn (or even break) an ankle, how hard it would be to land from a jump of any height in heels. Anybody who has seen a Batman film or read a Batman comic book knows that they spend a lot of time running and parkour-ing across rooftops.

The ability to cut somebody when you kick them (something which seems a ridiculous idea to me in the first place) is surely secondary to all that. The fact of the matter is that Christopher Nolan seems to care about gritty realism with regard to his male characters but not his female ones. Catwoman is the first female member of Batman’s rogues gallery introduced in the Nolanverse, the first woman in the Nolanverse who could be considered to be a “superhero” or “supervillian” in the same vein as Batman himself.*

This is significant, particularly in a series that is severely lacking in women. Rachel Dawes and Martha Wayne are almost literally the only named women in the first two films and between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rachel Dawes receives a rather unfortunate personality transplant. This of course is not actually the case and the problem lies with the source material as well as with the films. Anyone who has watched The Dark Knight with more than a passing knowledge of the extended Batfamily and any investment in Barbara Gordon was more than likely appalled at the final sequence of the film with Two-Face and Jim Gordon, which focused not on Barbara, a significant person in the Batman mythos, but on Jim Gordon’s rarely-mentioned son.

When a number of photos were released, some bloggers were endorsing a ‘wait and see’ approach with regards to The Dark Knight Rises, implying that Christopher Nolan is someone who can be trusted with female characters, something which I don’t believe to be true. With regards to Batman’s white, male characters I have faith that Christopher Nolan will treat them well and with the respect they deserve.**

With regards to his female characters however, I have little expectation or belief that they will be treated with the respect they deserve. I would very much like to be surprised! But in general, Christopher Nolan seems to work best with female character when they are dead or about to be dead, serving as motivation for his male characters.^ This means that the issue of Catwoman’s costume takes on more significance than it might otherwise, indicating that she may well be being treated with the same level of respect that Nolan often treats his female characters. In a universe where “gritty realism” is paramount, Catwoman’s costume and its practicality becomes an even greater issue than it is in the hyper-real world that the comic books inhabit.

*I’m not counting Nolan’s horrifying attempt to character assassinate Renee Montoya in The Dark Knight. This actually works in his favour! The character ‘Ramirez’ was originally supposed to be Renee Montoya and DC refused to allow him to use the name.

**Both Ra’s Al Ghul and Bane have been white-washed in the casting department and the only POC in the films that has been treated with any kind of respect is Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Admittedly Lucuis Fox had been treated with utmost respect but in light of the way in which other POC characters have been treated this seems a bitter trade-off.

^Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight, Mal in Inception, Julia and Sarah in The Prestige.

9 thoughts on “Stilettos, Catwoman and The Dark Knight Rises”

  1. Great post. I’m through the roof excited about this movie, but I have no illusions about Nolan’s treatment of women in his films, so when I heard about those heels, I was not at all surprised. My highest expectation? That it might actually pass the Bechdel test this time, with the introduction of Catwoman and Marion Cotillard’s character, which is possible considering the speculations on who Cotillard might actually be. Might be a long shot though.

    1. I waver between really excited and pessimistic tbh. It would be great if one of the Nolanverse films managed to pass the Bechdel test (finally!) but I’m not really holding my breath. (Passing the Bechdel test should really be the minimum for all films though. Two female characters, who don’t even have to be named, discussing something other than a man. So easy.)

  2. The thing is now, judging from evidence from the trailer (the appearance of hovercraft, the collapsing football field that looks like something straight out of an Indiana Jones actioneer) and now this news of Catwoman’s footwear, it does look like Nolan is abandoning “gritty realism” and going for a different approach altogether. Just saying.

    On a different issue, I didn’t notice any personality transplant, other than that Gyllenhaal played her with a somewhat tougher edge. In fact I preferred Gyllenhaal’s interpretation, but greatly disliked the character’s fate. Would you care to elaborate on what you meant by personality transplant? Thanks.

    1. That’s something that hadn’t occurred to me honestly, though it would be very strange to change tones in the final instalment of a trilogy. I think that outside context the big moments in “The Dark Knight” would have seemed very over the top as well?

      In terms of Dawes, in the first movie she was a very serious character, almost literally all business. She rarely smiled, didn’t joke and was positioned as the non-superhero alternative to Batman. (Gordon, who generally fills that role, is too cynical and worn down at this point-in a lot of ways, Batman is a very agressive optimist, same as Dawes.) The problem with her character in “Batman Begins” is that she is horrifically miscast. In the second movie, her place in the narrative is usurped by Gordon and Dent (both of which is actually fine) and the character is replaced by a smiling, laughing, joking woman who bears no resemblance to her in the last film.

  3. So, Christopher Nolan won’t countenance a Robin in his films, but somehow Catwoman in clawed stilettos gets through? Oh please.

    And I didn’t know that about Ramirez. I’d have stopped watching that second if she’d really been called Renee Montoya.

    1. Like I said in the post, realism only seems to be important for his male characters. (And with regards to casting, only his white, male characters at that.)

      Me too! The idea kind of feels me with incoherent rage tbh.

      1. Sorry, I was just expressing my disgust, not implying that I hadn’t read the post. I was just so annoyed at the whole thing that outraged spluttering was all that made it into the comment box.

        And if that’s how he treats Renee Montoya, then if a Kate Kane Batwoman movie ever gets discussed, then I hope Nolan doesn’t get anywhere near it.

        1. If you had only skimmed the post, it wouldn’t have been a problem at all! No required reading here. 🙂

          I’m not sure if it’s lucky or not that that isn’t too likely? Sigh.

  4. Was there a reason for Nolan to focus on Gordon’s son rather than Barbara? I have not read any Batman comics in my entire life, but even I know how much of an impact she had, both as Batgirl, Oracle and more. Seriously, just to have her be in focus, even if she is just there, would be a huge opportunity. What would the difference be? It would still be a child in distress. Only now we would know and care more, and it would give the Nolanverse’s explanation to Barbara wanting to fight crime.

    I haven’t watched “The Dark Knight Rises”, but I do feel that, while Christopher Nolan is a great director and movie creator, he does have some preferences for women I can’t share. Many of them look simply too young to me, which says something since movie industry loves to have young women with old men. Also the fact that he heavily relies on the Smurfette Principle, and that as you said, in the end he let go of “gritty realism” for Catwoman’s suit.

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