Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders 2016
I was disappointed during the last theatrical event for one of these DC animated features because I had car trouble and wasn’t able to go. Even though I wasn’t quite as excited for this film as I was for Killing Joke I figured it would still be a fun time at the theater and I was right. I don’t really have a whole lot of experience with ’66 Batman aside from the one movie, but even with only having that little bit of background I could tell the amount of care that went into this animated feature. There were plenty of references to the rogue’s gallery from the show and it captured the feel of the original show while still tossing in plenty of jokes geared towards someone who is familiar with Batman lore at large, seemingly poking fun at the darker, more modern version of Batman while celebrating the joy and camp of the earlier days.
The movie kicks off with a bit of a callback to the first movie where four of Batman’s greatest villains join up together. Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman, only this time they’re sticking with the original TV version of Julie Newmar’s design rather than the Lee Meriwether temporary replacement, though there is a moment where Batman gets knocked in the head and sees both versions plus Eartha Kitt. But the real crux of the story comes after Catwoman scratches him with her special formula Batnip that’s intended to turn him to a life of crime so that they can be together. It’s a plot that’s both over the top and yet much more subtle than I would have expected from the original show. The Batnip takes a while before it begins to take effect and Batman’s descent into villainy takes a surprisingly long time, unlike the duo’s usual jump-to-conclusion style detective work which is on fine display.
The film overall is stuck somewhere between an homage to the original while poking fun at both itself as well as newer versions of Batman. In some ways it works, but in others it doesn’t. There are some great jokes that very much feel like it’s poking fun at the style of the original, like when Batman is on a TV show and they switch the camera from drama to action and the only thing it does is go into a Dutch angle. It also pokes fun several times at more recent Batman stories, and it’s great to hear Adam West say lines from Burton’s Batman movie and the Dark Knight Returns. They even take the air out of the Nolan trilogy in a slight, throwaway joke. And they all come so fast that unless you’re really a fan of Batman you will very easily miss them.
One of the biggest assets and yet also the problem with this film is the voice cast. They bring back three of the original cast members: Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. And while the images on screen are still representative of their younger selves, their voices reflect much more of their actual age than most voice actors. Julie Newmar especially has a very grandmotherly quality to her voice that belies her age. It’s present in Adam West’s voice as well, but he has such an iconic voice that it’s much more forgivable. Burt Ward is the only one of the three who still pulls off the voice and makes it sound almost exactly like it did in the 60’s. Or at least close enough for someone who hasn’t listened to it in years.
Some of the best things that this film does is how it plays up on all the tropes of the show. While there aren’t quite as many labels as there were in the show, for example there’s no signs labeling each of the bat-poles or the instant costume change lever, but there are plenty on display. There’s also a couple instances of the sideways-walking-scaling-a-wall gag, unfortunately without any cameo poking out of a window. Even the fights have the trademark animated onomatopoeias that was likely used originally to help hide the amateur fight choreography. They even go so far as to intentionally have Catwoman casually distance herself from the fighting melee. There are times when it goes a little too far into self-parody, taking things just a tad too far into the realm of absurdity, like with an anti-antidote, but for the most part it hit the right notes that should feel right for anyone who is nostalgic for the original show or even someone who just has a passing familiarity with the show and is tired of how dark and gritty all the Batman stuff is becoming lately. It fits in very nicely with the humor of the Lego series of movies but very much feels different. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.