Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
Even without having read Mark Helprin's novel Winter's Tale, I have the unshakable feeling that Akiva Goldsman's film adaptation does not do the story justice. Speckled throughout the moreover colorless movie are hints of an intriguing idea — a fantasy epic about an angel-demon bureaucracy coexisting with the human race throughout the span of 20th century New York City, operating within the parameters of a didactic miracle-granting system — an idea that doesn't come close to its full potential. In 118 minutes, we barely scratch the surface of the world in which an apparently immortal Colin Farrell finds himself. We see him cavort with Russell Crowe, a malicious gang-leader with netherworld origins, seek guidance from a mystical Pegasus, and carry out his destiny as the savior to a mysterious red-haired girl. But we never truly understand why any of this is happening. Not that it gets particularly confusing; on a plot level, it's all quite simple. But that's the problem — it shouldn't be.
The central conceit of the film is that everyone is put on this Earth with a divine "mission" to uphold. Farrell's gives us the narrative of Winter's Tale, introducing the various rules and officers of the supernatural regime along the way. Abandoned as a baby and brought up under the criminal regime of a Manhattanite from Hell (Crowe), Farrell ascends from orphan to petty thief to horse whispering renegade to whimsical lover of a dying Jessica Brown Findlay to ageless messiah... all without much clarity on the nature of the story (or stories) he's occupying, save for two ham-fisted scenes of exposition — one with Graham Greene (not the dead author) and one with Jennifer Connelly, who shows up halfway through the movie for some reason.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
The world that Farrell is woven into has so many bright spots: we're on board for miracle quests, a magic-laden New York City, flying horses, and one of the biggest stars in Hollywood giving a cameo as the epitome of evil. Everything we see is fun, but it all flutters away as quickly as it arrives. We don't want quick bites of the way angels and demons do business with one another on the streets of Manhattan, we want the whole meal. A more thorough exploration of Helprin's world wouldn't just be doubly as interesting as the thin alternative we're offered in Goldsman's adaptation, it'd also fill in all the comprehensive gaps in Farrell's emotional throughline
We don't really understand so much of what happens to Farrell. Even when we're offered tangible explanations, we have no reason to understand why the Winter's Tale world works in such a way that Farrell might survive a 300-foot fall, develop amnesia, or sustain youth for a full century. What's more, we don't understand why Farrell's tale as a cog in this mystical machine is any more important than anyone else's. Or, if it's not, and we're simply asked to watch him carry out his quest as a glimpse into the vast, enigmatic system that Winter's Tale is ostensibly founded upon, we ... we don't understand enough of that world itself.
Warner Bros Pictures via Everett Collection
We're never invited close enough to any of the movie's attractive features for them to matter. So even when the movie does offer entertaining bits — in its fantastical elements, its detail of New Yorks old and new, or Farrell's admittedly charming romance with Findlay — we're not engaged enough to really connect with any of them.
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Still, the flying horse is pretty cool.
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Be advised that this discussion of Selina Kyle includes spoilers from The Dark Knight Rises.
There’s no such thing as the purrrrfect Catwoman. The character’s background, dating back to her origins on television on the 1960s series Batman as well as her appearances in the comics run the gamut from wiley adversary to a whiney ex-lover who calls Bruce Wayne just to say “Bruce, I’m lonely” in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. There’s not one perfect rendition to aim for. But Anne Hathaway’s complex cat burglar in Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film The Dark Knight Rises may be the closest thing we’ve seen to a perfect rendition of the infamous and beguiling Selina Kyle.
The first part of her success comes purely from Nolan’s decision to leave off the Catwoman moniker. If anything, we can assume those Gothamites who’d witnessed her work might whisper the name jokingly, but for the entirety of the film, she is solidly Selina Kyle, professional cat burglar and not some acrobatic she-villain in a spray-on leather suit (though her suit of choice is rather curve-hugging). The removal of her alias lends gravity to a character whose past iterations have been largely defined by the necessarily catty costume. Even Hathaway’s “cat ears” are merely a wink at Kyle’s cartoonish villain name. Instead of putting Hathaway in a dinky pair of pin-on faux-ears, we merely think we see the signature cat profile, when in reality, it’s the shape of her tactical spy-goggles perched atop her level head. We know she’s Catwoman, but she doesn’t have to become some flag-waving obtuse version of the conflicted character to tell us that.
But it’s not just the costume. Hathaway’s Kyle is not a criminal born out of the usual Catwoman origin. The first film iteration with a significant background is the very memorable performance from Michelle Pfeiffer in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (before that, fabulous Catwoman portrayers like Eartha Kitt and Julie Newmar were simply perfectly executed bad, bad kitties). Pfeiffer's Kyle is a downtrodden, mousy woman, fed up with the way men and the world stomped all over her. And one night, in the privacy of her sad, cat-filled apartment, she gets angry enough to sew together a patent leather catsuit, get her groove back and strike out at Gotham City with all her pent-up womanly rage. Her assault on the city and her partnering with the Penguin are petty and driven by a sense of selfish injustice. She’d been personally wronged, ignored, mistreated, and as such, everyone else is going to suffer her wrath. (Halle Berry’s Stretch Armstrong of a Catwoman suffered from a similarly unflattering origin story.) Even when she sacrifices herself to kill Shreck (Christopher Walken) at the end of the film, she does so in a way most people would file in the looney bin. Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is entertaining, and even sexy at times, but she is not a woman for modern viewers to relate to. If anything, she’s the depiction of women most modern ladies are trying to quiet. Let's just say there's a reason that as even as a child and major fan of Batman Returns I chose to imitate the caped crusader, gender be damned, and not his confuddled could-be sidekick with the long, pointy nails.
Still, Hathaway’s Kyle is no picnic. And she’s certainly no role model. She is, however, a woman that most contemporary audiences can truly relate to and understand. On one hand, she spends her time using men as playthings in her scheme to better her life. But on the other, she sees her role as almost modern day, feminist Robin Hood. She comes from nothing and she sees her “career” and her eventual involvement with Bane’s “impending storm” as methods of leveling the playing field between the haves and the have-nots, as evidenced by a scene in which she whispers “You’re going to wonder how you lived so large for so long and didn’t leave enough for the rest of us” in Bruce Wayne's million-dollar ear as a pudgy, stodgy man in a suit gluttonously cracks open a juicy lobster, allowing chunks of the precious meat topple onto the floor. It’s this gross inequality that drives her, but only so far as her own want for self-preservation will allow. The way Kyle sees it, she’s part of the solution, and she’s not approaching it with the feverish, knee-jerk reaction of so many Catwomen before her.
And then there’s her status as Batman/Bruce Wayne’s perfect match. Throughout the history of Batman, Catwoman/Selina Kyle has been a conflicting presence for Bruce. She’s always been on the wrong side of the law, but their attraction has been unavoidable. There’s something about her confusing morals that give him something he can relate to. She’s ultimately coming from a similar place of wanting to make the world better, but she’s unsure how to do that without causing evil. Still, Nolan's Kyle understand the mistakes she's made, something we can surmise by her remorse in one the final scenes in TDKR when she sees the result of helping Bane turn Gotham into a state of anarchy and stares with regret at one family’s shattered portraits. Her struggle is not unlike the moral struggle that Batman has faced time and again, including in Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
But what makes her such a perfect match is not that she’s able to tease him like no other woman, as past iterations of the character have displayed. It’s not the mystery or the sexy exterior that draws Wayne in (besides, he's had his hands on plenty of sexy ladies in his time). It’s her vulnerability and her ability to truly challenge him. She’s not an inferior fighter. She’s not a little green or a damsel in distress. She’s been surviving on her own, and even when he comes to her aid, it’s just that: aid. He’s not her Dark Knight in shining armor. He doesn't set her straight. He’s her challenge. She wins him over not because she’s trapped him or enticed him with her barely-there catsuit. They wind up together because they are actually matched. They are equals.
Now, with that in mind, the depiction of Hathaway’s Kyle certainly doesn’t elevate her to that level in terms of screen time. The cat burglar’s story is always secondary to Batman’s, but that’s not because her character, in the universe created by the film, is lesser. It’s simply because her name is not in the title of the film. This is not the Selina Kyle story. This is a story about Batman. Sure, in the end, that may leave us wishing we’d enjoyed more of Hathaway’s progressive Kyle, but it doesn’t diminish Nolan’s rendition of the character.
The real victory is in how real the character feels. Hathaway’s Selina is someone we understand. We could see ourselves driven to similar lengths and reacting with similar levels of remorse when the consequences were more dire than we anticipated. What makes this Catwoman superior to past renditions is that we’d be willing to put ourselves in her razor-edged stiletto boots. And we feel like we understand how it would feel.
Rather than feeling like we're watching the Catwoman sideshow in the big Batman movie, we experience the character Hathaway and Nolan have created so deeply that we walk away with a giant compliment in the form of a complaint: We want and need more Selina Kyle. It’s the highest compliment we could pay Hathaway’s excellent supporting character, and that level of elusiveness is actually the perfect way for the wily femme fatale to leave her adoring fans. She wouldn't want us thinking she was that easy to catch, now would she?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.