❉ Fifty years on from their TV debut, Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin are back in action to take down their fiendish foes once again!
For a character whose defining traits include being unique and solitary, there sure are a lot of Batmans around at the moment. It doesn’t seem that long since the trilogy of Nolan films came to an end with their veneer of realism covering some of Batman’s most ludicrous adventures to date. Now we have the DC Universe Batman offering Superman the opportunity to ‘bleed’ (‘Batman vs Superman’) and, covering the lighter side, ‘Lego Batman’ is on his way to try and fulfil the awesome promise of The Lego Movie. Is there room for even one more Batman in amongst this multitude of tight-wearing crime fighters? Of course there is!
There is a universal love for Batman and an appetite for his adventures that has extended far beyond the comic book world. For many people this is because of the seeds that were sprayed sewn in their heads by the original 1966 series starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin.
Even more so than the comic, the TV Batman hit more people harder in their own homes and at a younger age than any other version. It was a Batman-for-everyone with satirical humour for the adult audience, bright colours for the kids and women in suggestive outfits for the Heterosexual Men of America.
This series lived in its own world with clear conventions and Batman’s adventures took place within a rigid adventure serial formula. Given these restraints however, the creative team (most notably producer William Dozier and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr.) took Batman to the limit of the kitsch and surreal, but always had fun along the way. Every week Batman and Robin would get lured into bizarre death-traps by camp villains and escape them through the deployment of over-elaborate gadgets; and every week the episodes were peppered with fight sequences, Bat-sleuthing and audacious crimes to keep the audience thoroughly entertained.
The Batman ’66 comic and the recent Blu-Ray and DVD releases of the original series have shown that this version of Batman can still be popular today. So when Adam West said he wanted to be in another Batman movie some 50 years after the first, it seemed that at long last the time was right for the return of the Caped Crusaders.
There’s not much of a synopsis required; in this thrilling adventure, the Joker, the Riddler, the Penguin and Catwoman team up to steal a replicating ray and if you’ve ever seen the TV show you’ll know what happens next. Events unfold according to the usual formula until a shocking deviation takes the story into new territory.
The screenwriters (James Tucker and Michael Jelenic) have done an excellent job in capturing the style of the original TV show without copying it slavishly. The action is fuelled by an endless stream of surreal humour, gently mocking the super-hero conventions that were so familiar even in the 1960’s but playing along with them at the same time. The guiding rule is that no matter how insane the situation, everyone involved takes it perfectly seriously. There’s no room for questioning the logic of, say, strapping Batman and Robin to a giant TV dinner that’s on a slow-moving conveyer belt heading into an oven. You have to accept it because everyone on the screen accepts it.
As this is a modern adaptation, there are swipes at the newer versions of Batman as well. At one point Batman finds himself outside of his normal jurisdiction and, to everyone’s horror, he starts inflicting realistic violence on the villains. As he puts on the Bat-Knuckledusters, ‘KER-POW!’ is replaced by ‘FRACTURE!’ and he seems to be inflicting real pain. It’s quite a chilling moment because it’s out of place – and deliberately so. The Dark Knight may seem superior to the Bat-in-Tights, but this sequence clearly shows up what an unpleasant and nasty direction the grittier approach can take us.
Reprising their roles are Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. Simply put, it is a delight to hear them all again. Of the three of them it’s Burt Ward who anchors the show, possibly because his voice has hardly changed in 50 years. Adam West is more gravelly but still manages to bring an eccentric gravitas to every line, complete with inappropriate pauses. Newmar has a deliciously sensual voice, making her Catwoman as irresistible as ever and she rightly takes the centre stage among the bad guys.
With a nostalgia exercise like this it is important avoid shaking the viewer out of the bubble so it is essential to ensure that the voices don’t jar. Fortunately the voice acting for the supporting cast is outstanding. Jeff Bergman (Joker), Wally Wingert (Riddler) and William Salyers (Penguin) are spot on and at times it felt as though Caesar Romero, Frank Gorshin and Buster Meredith were still with us. They bring the right kind of manic energy to their roles so that you never doubt that these villains are utterly serious about their crazy plans.
On the minus side, there are a few points where the energy levels drop and the gags run out of steam. It only takes a few weaker jokes to derail the comedy and maybe it would have been better to cool it down at times and focus on the narrative. That said, when the humour works it works in spades.
The animation is serviceable, but nothing special. There’s some good design work, including new vehicles for Batman and a fantastic 60’s style space station. However there are scenes where it’s obvious they’re keeping character movement to a minimum and the backgrounds are visibly in a different style. None of these flaws get in the way of the story though; and in some ways make it a more accurate homage to the original show for there to be these sorts of imperfections.
‘Batman: Return of The Caped Crusaders’ is a fun-filled addition to the Batman canon and well worth your time. It hit the nostalgia button while offering something new and worthwhile. Of course comedy is highly subjective, but I found it frequently hilarious with big laughs and highly quotable lines.
If you’re the kind of person who gets annoyed that Bruce Wayne says ‘To the Batcave!’ rather than ‘To the Batpoles!’ and that Commissioner Gordon has a moustache while Caesar Romero’s Joker doesn’t, then this might not be for you. If you’re a fan of daft jokes, surreal visions and pop culture, this’ll be right up your street. If you’re both annoyed by the inaccuracies AND a huge fan of the silliness then I’m afraid it’ll drive you… totally insane… Old Chum!
❉ ‘Batman: Return of The Caped Crusaders’ is released by Warner Home Video on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 7 November 2016.