In 1992, Batman Returns set a precedent for the superhero films that followed in its wake. It’s thematically and visually dark, but also campy and over the top, and the characters speak with whip-smart dialogue. In many instances, the costumed capers that came afterward steered clear of the dark heart of Batman Returns, and simply borrowed from its style on a surface level. Even the darker movies that followed in the film's footsteps failed to dig as deep as director Tim Burton into the psychological nature of Batman.
Batman Returns introduced '90s kids to the unrelenting sensuality of Selina Kyle (better known by her alias, Catwoman), not to mention the concept of Jungian shadow archetypes and the then-burgeoning movement of third-wave feminism. Catwoman sits at the heart of this film and flits and yowls her way through the narrative, proving she’s the most interesting character in Batman’s rogues' gallery. Later Batman directors attempted to create similar characters, and while they may have matched the intensity, they never matched the depths that Tim Burton and Michelle Pfeiffer explored in their depiction of Catwoman.
Bruce Wayne is enamored with Selina Kyle from the moment he sees her. Initially, he saves her from one of the Penguin's clowns, but he sees her again at Max Shreck's office, and he can't keep his cool. Similarly, Kyle is drawn to Wayne like he's bathed in catnip. As Catwoman, she despises Batman from the moment they cross paths. She sees him as just another man who's trying to control her. Nonetheless, she is openly aggressive in her pursuit of him.
When Catwoman first encounters Batman, she tosses off charged barbs, lays on top of him and licks his mask. On their date at Wayne Manor, Kyle grabs Wayne's groin. Before running off to slay her old boss, she leaves a message for Bruce with Alfred, saying that the billionaire makes her feel the way she hopes she really is. In other words, she truly enjoys the powerful, overtly sensual being that the Dark Knight helps her become.
There's really no subtext to Catwoman's suit: She's a woman clad in a black synthetic outfit that you can find in any online retailer for grownups. As obsessed over as Catwoman has been through the years, Pfieffer's portrayal of Kyle is the character at her most lascivious. The catsuit was nearly impossible to wear, and getting Pfeiffer into it took a costume team who baby powdered her into the easy-to-destroy costume before spraying it with silicone to make it shine.
On top of the overall look of the suit, she literally cracks a lash while yelping and purring at the men in her life. According to the designer behind the outfit, they literally had to make a mold of Pfeiffer so it was perfectly skin tight: "We made a body cast of her, and the costume was made on [it] We were afraid that it would rip, because she had these cat claws, and because it’s latex, once it ripped it’s over, you can’t repair it. So we had to make about 40 catsuits, but actually it never ripped, it was very strong."
After coming to life as Catwoman, just about every single one of Selina Kyle's lines is a double entendre or thinly veiled come-on directed toward whomever she's addressing. Whenever she's in a scene with Penguin, she's volleying his gross overtures ("Just the p*ssy I've been looking for," he says while she strokes a cat). When she shares the screen with Bruce Wayne or Batman, she's the character who's on the attack.
Even when she has to run out on Wayne during their date, she tells Alfred to make up a "dirty limerick" for the billionaire. This kind of dialogue is definitely in keeping with the spirit of the '66 Batman series, but it feels even darker with Burton's gothic sensibilities.
When Selina Kyle is propelled from Max Shreck's window at the beginning of the film, she goes from being a passive character in the narrative to the most aggressive piece of the Batman Returns puzzle. Upon receiving her motivation (avenging her passing), she changes her wardrobe and attitude - and begins enacting a plan for retribution.
Aside from plotting against Shreck, Catwoman goes after Bruce Wayne in a way that no other woman has before or since. She literally pounces on him during their date and makes out with him, but she doesn't let her attraction deter her from her main goal. After Wayne rips off his mask in the finale and asks her to give up her new life for him, she rejects the offer and finishes her task of offing the creep who pushed her out a window.