CULT CORNER: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)

Adam West and Burt Ward return to their iconic characters in this DC animation. Cal gives it a look. 

Who made it?: Rick Morales (Director), Michael Jelenic (Co-Writer/Producer), James Tucker (Co-Writer), Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment.

Who’s in it?: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Jeff Bergman, Sirena Irwin, Thomas Lennon, William Salyers.

Tagline: “The crusade continues…”

IMDb rating: 7.0/10.

Almost paradoxically, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is by far and away the best and most enjoyable Batman movie of 2016, not that it has much in the way of competition. Yes, this feature-length homage to the campy 1960s Batman TV show is effortlessly better than both the monstrously-budgeted disappointment of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as the animated misfire of Batman: The Killing Joke. (Forget about Batman: Bad Blood, if anybody actually remembers it.) Produced outside of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series, Return of the Caped Crusaders plays out like a direct sequel to 1966’s Batman: The Movie, distinguishing itself by presenting a goofy, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the Dark Knight, and the approach pays off. It’s clear that everybody involved in Return of the Caped Crusaders holds tremendous affection for the old show, and this reverence is palpable in most every frame of this riotously funny romp.

Whenever Gotham City is under threat, the task of saving the day falls to the reliable Dynamic Duo of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Adam West) and Dick Grayson/Robin (Burt Ward). Much to the dismay of the two crimefighters, their main four nemeses – The Riddler (Wally Wingert), The Joker (Jeff Bergman), The Penguin (William Salyers), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) – have joined forces to steal the Replicator Ray, which is capable of duplicating anybody it targets. But even though Batman and Robin manage to retrieve the weapon, Catwoman slips Batman a chemical which turns him into a selfish, power-hungry jerk. Before long, Batman starts to use the Replicator Ray on himself to take over Gotham City, leaving Robin to find a way to reverse both the effects of the chemical and the duplication properties of the Ray.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders has a ball embracing the pure absurdity which defined the television show and subsequent feature film expansion, from the hilariously convoluted way that the Dynamic Duo deduce The Riddler’s puzzles, to Robin’s situation-specific exclamations (“Holy trench warfare!”) and Batman’s habitual need to impart life lessons no matter how urgent the situation. Furthermore, the animators faithfully recreate the 1960s Batcave in all its campy glory, and all of the items in Batman’s seemingly endless arsenal carry titles preceded by the word “Bat” – including a Bat-Rocket. The vibe of 60s Batman is captured almost effortlessly, from the iconic theme music to the character designs, and of course, the use of goofy captions throughout sequences of fisticuffs whenever a punch or kick is thrown (“Oomph!,” “Kapow!”). The animation format allows for a greater scope that was simply never possible on a 1960s budget, but the production never loses sight of its origins. Those desiring a darker or even a more bombastic interpretation of the source should probably look elsewhere.

Despite running a comparatively scant 75 minutes, Return of the Caped Crusaders does feel a bit long in the tooth after a while, as it starts to run out of gas during its second act in particular. The jokes are certainly amusing when they hit, particularly throughout the brilliantly-paced opening half-hour or so, but the flick probably could’ve done with more gags and/or zany diversions, or at least some trimming. Additionally, despite the spot-on recreation of the Batcave, the rest of the sets look overly bog-standard for the most part, and rarely does the production generate the impression that it takes place in the 1960s. This is likely a reflection of the budget limitations, but a bit more style to the surroundings would not have gone astray. Still, Return of the Caped Crusaders gets more right than wrong, though it almost goes without saying that this is a fan-service type of movie, and those familiar with the original show will get the most out of it. It’s unclear just how well the movie will play to the uninitiated.

Voice acting across the board is highly spirited and full of energy for the most part, which is no small feat in the animation realm where even the most talented actors can sound uninterested and lifeless. West’s voice is easily the most distinctive, and there would be no point continuing the legacy of 1960s Batman without the veteran performer reprising his role. There’s so much effortless spark and charm to West’s performance here, taking to the animated format without missing a beat. (He has spent many years playing an exaggerated version of himself on Family Guy, after all.) Meanwhile, Ward’s age is reflected in his voice, but this actually makes his performance all the more amusing, adding another layer of meta humour. What matters is that Ward’s energy never falters, and his interplay with West is every bit as lively and amusing as it should be. However, Newmar is not quite as successful in this respect; her advanced age also comes through in her voice, which has changed so much that she doesn’t sound anything like her original Catwoman. It’s certainly an interesting novelty to have Newmar in the cast, but her performance is stiff and flat. Luckily, the sound-alikes portraying The Penguin, The Riddler and The Joker hit their marks terrifically.

For all of its tongue-in-cheek gags and corny dialogue, it never feels as if Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is mocking the source material. Rather, it provides a timely, affectionate throwback to a simpler era for the Caped Crusader. Indeed, it should play very well for those who are sick of dark, grim interpretations, and it’s undeniably refreshing to see this jovial side to the character for the first time in decades. A sequel is reportedly in the works to be adapted from an unproduced script intended for the original show, which will apparently feature William Shatner as Two-Face. At this point, the prospect of a sequel is more exciting than any other Batman feature in development. Go figure.

Best Scene

The trio of Catwomen (above) takes the cake for meta reasons, but here’s a good old school fight scene. POW!

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • While confronting the villains, Batman says, “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” This is a line that Michael Keaton said in Batman (1989).
  • During a fight at a TV studio, the camera operator switches the camera to “Fight Scene”, and the camera tilts to the side in a “Dutch tilt”, used throughout the 1966 TV series and film to depict the “crooked” hideout.
  • The artwork that The Joker steals is of a clown that’s an obvious nod the the mask that Heath Ledger wears at the beginning of The Dark Knight.
  • In the Batcave, there are two costumes paying homage to the cinema serials Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949).

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