Why the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman is Still Batman's Best Movie Villain

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Director Tim Burton's Batman Returns is widely regarded as one of the best Dark Knight stories of all time, across all mediums. In 1992, Burton followed up his Batman solo outing from three years earlier before by bringing Michelle Pfeiffer in as Selina Kyle and Danny DeVito in as Penguin to continue the adventures of Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne as he struggled to save the soul of Gotham.

While there have been tremendous performances from Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, not to mention Liam Neeson as Ra's al Ghul, Tom Hardy as Bane, or even Anne Hathaway as another Catwoman, Pfeiffer's Catwoman stands in a class of her own. While it's not as consistently praised as some of those other roles, Pfeiffer's Catwoman stands head and shoulders above the rest on the big and small screens.

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Pfeiffer's Catwoman differed from the burglar that was first introduced by Bill Finger in DC Comics in 1940 and who's since gone on to become a staple of the Bat-mythos. In this movie, she started off as a timid secretary to corrupt tycoon Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). After she uncovered his nefarious plot to cripple the city through electricity, Shreck exacted revenge by pushing her out of his office window to her death.

However, Selina, who lay seemingly dead in the alley, was swarmed by a bunch of cats, and was reborn in some some of spiritual transference. Selina went home and had a psychotic breakdown, coming off more aggressive and bloodthirsty, as she drank milk to complete her transformation. It wasn't as mystical as Halle Berry's power-up in her critically-derided Catwoman movie, but still, revenge and a woman scorned were enough motivation for Pfeiffer's character to evolve into a nocturnal hunter atop roofs.


Despite her vaguely superpowered origins, this Catwoman essentially had the same abilities that she's had in comic books for decades.  When Selina became Catwoman, she became flexible, agile and super-swift, just like those alley cats which helped revive her. To top it off, she suddenly gained reflexes and the skill to use a whip as if she was a ringmaster in a circus.

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Granted, these powers would make it seem like she's human, but in the end when Shreck tries to kill Catwoman, he unloads several bullets in her, yet she doesn't die. We were left wondering if she did indeed have nine lives and if this was all some sort of immortal essence Burton wanted to leave open to interpretation. Either way, just like the Bat was a symbol for justice, the Cat was one for undying anarchy, and Pfeiffer set the bar so high, not even Anne Hathaway could reach it in The Dark Knight Rises.


When Pfeiffer's Selina went home, as her psyche began to fracture and she destroyed her apartment, she took her seamster's tools and begin designing that iconic black leather suit. As you can see from the final look, it was meant to be a rough aesthetic, as if someone frustrated decided to cut and stitch one up at home after a meltdown.

In other words, it reflected her mental state. Granted, the costume also tied into the new seductive side that was unleashed within Selina, that even Batman couldn't resist. The all-black veered away from the purple hues and grey tones the comics had traditionally garbed her in and fashioned her as a kindred spirit to Batman. With her short, pointy ears on a cowl that left much of her pale face exposed, her look both complimented Batman's dark costume while embodying the kind of romance that Batman always tried to push to the back of his mind.


On screen, Pfeiffer's Catwoman is the ultimate Bat-villain because she was came the closest to corrupting Batman and distracting from his mission. While other villains like the Joker, Bane, Poison Ivy and the res played on Batman's emotions, you could tell he'd never end up breaking his principles for them. They may have broken his body at times, but none of them ever quite managed to test his heart and soul in the same way that Catwoman did.

This Selina, however, had him caught in a tangled web of love that really made Bruce's mind hazy whenever he assessed her brand of chaotic social justice. Pfeiffer's playful, sinister and ultimately unpredictable take on the character balanced drama and sympathy while playing up her duality as a good girl/bad girl. The resulting version of Catwoman was dynamic enough to truly cloud Batman's mind.

Pfeiffer created a Catwoman who convincingly wrapped Batman and the Penguin around her finder and unsure of how to proceed. And any villain who can leave the Dark Knight in such mental and emotional distress is simply a cut above the rest.

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