When I was little, I used to come home after school and watch old episodes of Batman – it was wonderfully silly, but I lapped it up. Now I’m a touch older, I still love the show – if you ever have the chance to watch it, I urge you to give it a go. The point of this ramble is that the show is now 50 years old and to celebrate, an animated feature has been made with the original cast members. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders encapsulates all that great about the show, retaining all of its silliness and fun, being a joy for both old fans of the show and newcomers alike.
Watching an episode of ‘Gotham Palace,’ Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) are alarmed to discover that four of their deadliest foes – The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) – have teamed up to combine their nefarious talents and threaten Gotham City. The heroes are able to put a stop to the antics of the dastardly villains, but the sudden advent of an unlikely new villain means the city is not yet free from danger.
Now, making this film would have been completely pointless if it were unable to conjure up the feeling of the 60s TV show, and that is a respect in which it succeeds massively. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, imagine the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman films. Then imagine that exact opposite of that stylistically, and you’re there.) There are tons of in-jokes and Easter eggs (one quite literally an egg) that put you in mind of the show, including the famous walking up building moments and Batman stopping a case to impart a moral lesson. There’s far too many moments to write (and I wouldn’t anyway), but be assured that you’ll get fun fight scenes with ‘BIFF’ and the like flashing up on the screen, and a riddle solved with insane bat logic.
The other big draw is the return of the Dynamic Duo themselves – both Adam West and Burt Ward return to the roles that made them famous, and their fun chemistry has remained intact through the years (although his role on Family Guy has helped make some of West’s lines funnier than they should have been). Particularly of delight (for comic book fans, at least) is hearing West reciting lines from Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ although with all the menace you could have in an episode of 60s Batman.
The only other living cast member from the show is Julie Newmar, who reprises her role of the feline fatale – in her case, her age is far more noticeable in her voice, especially amongst the other villains (all voiced by voice-a-like actors, doing convincing impressions of the 60s cast).
Let’s get onto the plot – the film plays out much like an extended episode of the show (to the extent that it maybe doesn’t warrant the transition to film quite so clearly), but the use of animation means we get to enjoy some more elaborate set-pieces without suffering the lack of believability. The writers clearly adored the show, and in conjuring up the same feeling as the 60s show, they also get to poke fun (in a light-hearted way) at that show. We get little gags about the elaborate angles used to frame fight scenes, or Chief O’Hara’s frequent use of ‘Begorrah,’ but it’s affectionately done – if you were a fan, it’ll be especially funny for you.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a return to a more light-hearted and irreverent look at the world’s favourite superhero, and it is a very welcome one. The movie is undoubtedly the best Batman picture of the year, and proof that a superhero movie can be good to its source material and unbridled fun for its viewers. A sequel is coming (with William Shatner as Two-Face) but, for the time being, I urge you to seek this one out.
Director: Rick Morales
Cast: Adam West (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Burt Ward (Dick Grayson/Robin), Julie Newmar (Catwoman), Jeff Bergman (Announcer/The Joker), William Salyers (The Penguin), Wally Wingert (The Riddler)
Running Time: 78 Mins