After nearly 15 years of DC Universe Animated Original Movies, Catwoman finally has her own feature solo film, and it’s an anime movie co-starring Batwoman no less, directed by Shinsuke Terasawa from a script by Young Justice co-creator Greg Weisman. Like many animated DTV DC films, it’s a slightly undercooked, 80-minute affair, but still enough fun to make you long for a similarly good live-action showcase for its heroes.
The film sees Selina Kyle (Elizabeth Gillies) being pursued by the criminal organization Leviathan, after stealing an emerald from their headquarters in Spain, and being forced to work with Batwoman (Stephanie Beatriz) and Interpol to lure out their leaders, including Black Mask (Jonathan Banks), Tobias Whale (Keith David), and Barbara Minerva (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Weisman’s script weaves together the disparate crime groups of the wider DC Universe, including the League of Assassins and Intergang, meaning there’s always a pleasant surprise or unexpected cameo around the corner.
However, the focus is always maintained on Selina and Kate Kane’s friendly rivalry, which is mined for some genuine sexual tension — Selina’s bisexuality is there for all to see, in another welcome flourish from the source material (as established in 2015’s “Catwoman” #39.) Gillies’s vocal characterization fits the traditional Selina mold perfectly well, mature yet playful enough for you to believe she loves camping it up with her cat “schtick” (as Kate puts it), while Beatriz strongly evokes her time as Rosa Diaz to make Kane an excellent straight woman (no pun intended) for Kyle.
There is a drawback to the film’s emphasis on action and banter though, as the short runtime means Selina feels underexplored in her own movie, despite hints of a deeper motivation behind her thievery: as established in the pastel, Cowboy Bebop-style opening credits sequence, she first angered Leviathan by freeing a group of human trafficking victims in Sochi, Russia, and it wasn’t until the ending that it dawned on me this was a callback to Selina’s past as a prostitute in “Batman: Year One.” The question of whether Selina is truly a good person is admittedly well-trodden ground in Batman stories, but it feels like a missed opportunity that resulted from a need to keep it PG-13.
On that note, Hunted is thankfully nowhere as bloody as some animated DC films, but surprisingly so, with fight scenes that lack any intensity until the final battle with Minerva (save for one scene where Selina goes Rosa Klebb on Tobias Whale’s ass.) There’s a lot of amusing moments of Selina and Kate outwitting their considerably more powerful foes, but they feel like they belong to a younger-skewing piece of media, especially the Looney Tunes-esque manner Selina dispatches one villain, or the way Kate silences another, which seems like a tactic Weisman originally wrote for Spectacular Spider-Man.
What hand-to-hand combat there is also feels perfunctory, like a live-action film, except for the movie’s final sequence, when the animators briefly implement more cartoonish effects (like the moments in kids’ anime where characters become “super-deformed”). The production also appears to struggle with lip sync, possibly because they were required to use different mouth shapes for each sound (unlike the standard “flapping” in Japan), which further raises the question: why did this need to be anime? While it is novel to see Catwoman’s universe like this, it’s so restrained: the most inventive visual here has to be Intergang’s Evangelion-style armor, and that’s it sadly.
Let’s end this critique with a few positives, shall we? Despite the overly grounded approach, it is refreshing to see Catwoman and Batwoman’s costumes not being rendered skin-tight (with visible sags and creases and so on), avoiding any accidental gratuitousness, and the score by composer Yutaka Yamada is delightfully jazzy. This might also sound like praise for the bare minimum, but it is very good that Batman himself never shows up, since DC comics and media can often feel like an excuse to feature the Dark Knight some more, and because it means Kate remains the second most important character in the film.
Overall, Catwoman: Hunted is a breezy, affable, if slightly forgettable outing, that’s still more enjoyable than most live-action DC films, which is very much what I expect from animated DC movies nowadays — hopefully it won’t be too long before Selina gets another diverting opportunity from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment again.