By Steve Ryfle
Call it the super-battle of the sexes.At first glance, "Catwoman" looks like just another overblown, big-budget comic-book movie, but don't be so quick to relegate this one to the litter box. When Halle Berry
hops from rooftop to rooftop, it's a giant leap forward for super-womankind.
Until now, super-hero movies have been one, big boys club. There are a few exceptions, all of them misfires: Helen Slater was a very un-super "Supergirl" in the 1980s, while the 1990s gave us Lori Petty as "Tank Girl" and Pam Anderson as "Barb Wire." The only female superhero with any dignity was Michelle Pfeiffer's slinky turn as Catwoman (really an anti-super-hero) more than a decade ago in "Batman Returns."
But now we have "Catwoman," and soon we'll have Jennifer Garner as "Elektra." We've already had two "X-Men" films led by super-heroines Storm (Berry), Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Dr. Grey (Famke Jannsen), two "Charlie's Angels" movies (not exactly comic book material, but close enough) and three "Matrix" flicks with their assorted female action heroes (ditto).
On the way are "Fantastic Four" with Invisible Girl (Jessica Alba
), a possible "X-Men 3," and there's talk of a big-screen version of "Wonder Woman."
It's not as if a super-hero Equal Rights Amendment has passed, but some progress is better than none. Still, why did it take so long?
"The studios most likely didn't realize the potential female-driven superhero movies would have," says Mirko Parlevliet, webmaster of SuperHeroHype.com, the end-all, be-all site for comic book movie fans. "It started with films such as "Die Another Day" and "Daredevil" where the female leads were able to hold their own opposite the male characters."
Parlevliet says, not surprisingly, that Berry's "Catwoman" and her ilk probably can't match the mega-grosses of Tobey Maguire's "Spider-Man" and the male competition in general, "Not because they are lesser actors, but just because of how much more popular one character is over another."
And let's face it, comics are traditionally a boys' hobby, which is probably the main reason comic book movies are, and will continue to be, likewise a boys' world. Ask just about any superhero geek these days, and they'll say the most highly anticipated comic book movie right now is "Batman Begins" (due out in June 2005), directed by Christopher Nolan ("Memento") and starring Christian Bale in a story that supposedly takes the Dark Knight back to his roots and will help us forget "Batman and Robin."
The recent news that director Bryan Singer (he of "X-men" fame and fortune) is taking over Warner Bros.' long-awaited, long-stalled "Superman" remake has fans hopeful, but that project has gone through so many screenplays (including a draft by Kevin Smith), directors (Tim Burton, McG, and others) and start dates that the jury's still out as to whether it will actually get made or just blow up, Krypton-style, all over again.
Craig T. Nelson heads a super family in the CGI-animated "The Incredibles" (due in November) and Wesley Snipes gets to kill vampires again in "Blade Trinity" (due in December). "Elektra" bows next February, but after that, no female super-hero gets top billing in the foreseeable future. The super-hero blockbusters slated for 2005, like "Constantine" (starring Keanu Reeves as an evil-fighting anti-hero) and "Fantastic Four," won't further the cause of heroines much.
The most qualified fantastic female to carry the torch seems to be Wonder Woman. With her bulletproof bracelets, lasso of truth and invisible airplane, this super-strong Amazon from Paradise Island is among the most popular super-heroines of all time.
Producer Joel Silver (of "The Matrix" fame) has been attached to "Wonder Woman" for several years, and at one time Sandra Bullock was slated to star, but now WW appears mired in development hell along with other comic characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Green Lantern and more.
So for now, we'll have to settle for Catwoman and her flea collar. It's not exactly a sea change, but--pardon the clich?--super-sisters are doin' it...oh, you know.